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2021 WORLD WATCH LIST #12

SYRIA

 

Country rank

12

Persecution score

81.18

Last year’s rank

11

Region

Middle East  North Africa

Persecution Type

Dictatorial paranoia (Very strong), Islamic oppression (Very strong), Clan oppression (Strong), Organized corruption and crime (Strong), Christian Denominational protectionism (Medium)

Persecution Level

Extreme

Population

18,924,000

Christians

677,000 (3.6%) Data source: Johnson T M and Zurlo G A, eds., World Christian Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed February 2020).

Main Religion

Islam

Government

Presidential Republic

Leader

President Bashar al-Assad

 

 

In cooperation with local partners and churches, Open Doors supports the church in Syria through:
• Bible and Christian literature distribution
• Biblical, discipleship, and leadership training
• Socio-economic development
• Rehabilitation programs for displaced Christians
• Emergency aid relief

ABOUT SYRIA

What does persecution look like in Syria?

Syria’s continuing civil war has made the country a breeding ground for the persecution of Christians. The unrest, which was beginning to lessen, has been exacerbated by the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. Many Christians are still internally displaced or are refugees in other countries as a result of over a decade of war and rising Islamic extremism. In northern Syria, invasion by Turkish forces in late 2019 caused greater instability, and seems to have been used by some Islamic extremists as a cover for opportunities to target Christians.

In areas controlled by Islamic extremist groups, public expressions of Christianity are banned and most churches have been seized or destroyed. In government-controlled areas, this threat is less – but there are still abductions of young Chrisitans, and Islamic dissidents, including ISIS militants, are still active.

Christians from a Muslim background are vulnerable to pressure from their family and communities, who perceive conversion from Islam as bringing dishonor. 

How women experience persecution

Christian women and girls in Syria face persecution from both Islamic militants and, if they come from a Muslim background, their own families. The war in Syria has eased but is not over, and women are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault in rebel-held areas. Sexual violence against women has even become normalized in some areas.

Christian women and girls from a Muslim background often keep their new faith secret. If it is revealed, they are vulnerable to ‘honor killings’ by their Muslim family, as well as extreme pressure to return to Islam. In practice, the law does little to protect women and girls from family violence.

In Syria, it is illegal for a woman from a Muslim background to marry a Christian man. If a woman converts while married to a Muslim man, she is likely to be divorced and lose access to her children. All rights go to the Muslim spouse, under Shariah (Islamic law). 

How men experience persecution

Men are the main breadwinners in Syrian society, and the family is dependent on them for financial support. If a Syrian Christian man is killed or abducted or loses his job (as has happened widely during the pandemic), the whole family suffers. Church leaders are often targets for abduction, which impacts the whole community. 

What has changed this year?

Persecution remains extreme in public and private life for Christians in Syria, though there is a slight trend toward lessening pressure for Christians. This reflects the shrinking of territory held by Islamic extremist groups. COVID-19 has exacerbated many existing vulnerabilities in the past year. Public pressure on Christians continues to increase, although Christians faced slightly less pressure from their families and communities. 

There were slightly fewer reports of violence, following a trend from the past couple of years, though threats of attack, abduction and forced marriage remain constant.

Who is most vulnerable to persecution?

Christians are particularly under pressure in the last bastions of Islamic militant control in Idlib Province in the northwest and in Hasakah Province in the northeast, where ISIS, Turkey forces or opposition groups supported by Turkey have continued to attack civilian and church targets. 

Christians from a Muslim background are vulnerable to various forms of violent and non-violent persecution across the country, but they are particularly vulnerable in the northwest and northeast. 

How can I help Christians in Syria?

What does Open Doors do to help Christians in Syria?

Open Doors partners in Syria are supporting and strengthening the church through Bible distribution, discipleship and leadership training, trauma counseling, and support and rehabilitation for internally displaced Christians and refugees. 

Pray

– Pray for Syrian Christians to be able to return to their homes, families, communities and livelihoods, and for God’s continued restoration for those who have already returned.

– Pray for Syrian believers to be the light of hope in Syria, providing comfort and wisdom to those who are suffering from trauma or from a lack of food and resources.

– Pray for the Word of God to saturate the land of Syria and that people will find new joy, strength and hope when meditating upon it.

A PRAYER FOR SYRIA

Lord God, thank You that You have stood with the church in Syria throughout all the difficulties of the past decade. We pray that You will continue to show Your love to those who have suffered so much. Bring unity and joy to Christians who have had to leave their homes, and solace to those who mourn. May Syria become a country where praise for You resounds loudly.  

Your gift today will show our persecuted brothers and sisters in Syria, and other countries in the World Watch List they are loved and remembered by you.