The published World Watch List documents the 50 countries where Christians experience the most persecution. But what about those countries outside the top 50? Find out more about why countries leave the top 50 and how you can continue to pray for believers in those nations.
Although Sri Lanka is not currently within the World Watch List top 50, Open Doors partners are still supporting and strengthening persecuted believers there
Sadly, Christians are persecuted in many more countries than just the 50 on the World Watch List. Overall, this year, 76 countries showed extreme, very high or high levels of persecution, two more than in 2021.
Ten years ago, a persecution score of 40 points or more would have put a country into the top 50. Today every top 50 country has over 60 points.
Kenya and Comoros (49 and 50 on the 2021 World Watch List) have dropped out of the top 50, not because persecution has decreased there, but because it has increased in other countries. Niger and Cuba joined the list, entering at numbers 33 and 37 respectively.
A believer from Niger who attended persecution survival training says, “I thought persecution was something that happens elsewhere, like Nigeria, Iran or Egypt. But now I realise it is in my room, even under my bed.”
Sri Lanka (51) is thankfully outside the top 50 again this year, after a large drop in rank during the 2021 reporting period. In 2019, the country was rocked when several churches and hotels were targeted by suicide bombers – more than 200 people died. Thanks to your prayers and support, Open Doors partners were able to come alongside the survivors with practical, emotional and spiritual support. Praise God, Sri Lanka has not seen attacks like that since then.
“I thought persecution was something that happens elsewhere, like Nigeria, Iran or Egypt. But now I realise it is in my room, even under my bed”Believer in Niger
Tanzania, Angola, Rwanda and Burundi are all hovering just outside the top 50, reflecting the activities of Islamic extremists in sub-Saharan Africa, the region that continues to see the most violence against Christians.
This year, Nigeria, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are among the 10 countries where Christians face the most violence. Mozambique and Cameroon are the same, due to jihadists there and across the Lake Chad Basin (Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and southern Niger), and in the Sahel (Mali, Burkina Faso and western Niger). Five of these countries were not even on the World Watch List in 2014.
If you’ve seen previous World Watch Lists, you might remember some of these countries appearing in the top 50 before.
Sri Lanka (51)
Despite being a secular country according to its constitution, Buddhism is clearly favoured; believers from Buddhist backgrounds are treated as second-class citizens as they are considered to have betrayed their national identity. The Easter 2019 attacks on several churches, which killed more than 200 people and injured 500 more, were committed by a small radical Islamic group.
In Kenya, Christianity is the majority religion, but that hasn’t stopped the spread of persecution. Christians with a Muslim background in the northeast and coastal regions live under constant threat of attack – even from their closest relatives. Islamic extremist group al-Shabab has infiltrated the local population to monitor the activities of Christians in those areas. However, organised crime and corrupt officials are also a serious problem.
Christians in Comoros are not able to share their faith freely in public. If they do, they face legal consequences. In some parts of the country, extremist groups threaten Christians with violence. Converts from a Muslim background face the most severe difficulties. They are often pressured to keep their faith private – leaving them no option but to live out their faith in secret.
United Arab Emirates (54)
In 2018, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was number 40 on the World Watch List. While expatriate Christians (mostly migrant workers) enjoy a certain level of tolerance towards their faith, believers from Muslim backgrounds can face persecution if their Christian faith is made known.
Tanzania was at number 33 on the 2017 World Watch List – it has remained outside of the Top 50 since. Radical groups aim to establish an Islamic state that includes Zanzibar and a significant section of Tanzanian mainland along the coast. In this new Muslim state, there would be no place for Christians or other people with non-Sunni Muslim beliefs.
Azerbaijan has fluctuated in the World Watch List over the years and was as high as number 34 in 2016. It was number 50 in 2019, before dropping out of the top 50. No religious activities beyond state-run and state-controlled institutions are allowed. State agents are reported to have infiltrated all religious congregations. Pastors and other church leaders are regularly invited for conversations with the police.
Palestinian Territories (57)
In 2017, the Palestinian Territories reached number 23 on the World Watch List. Thankfully, it dropped to 49 in 2019, and then out of the top 50. Religious nationalism and Islamic oppression are the two main drivers of persecution against Christians, and many believers have fled the region. But there are some Christians – like Elias and his family – who are determined to stay and be a light in their community.
Djibouti is another country who has fallen significantly in the ranks since 2015, when it reached number 24. Islam is deeply rooted in society and other religions are regarded as alien; radical Islam is also growing. Tribalism in the country is so deeply rooted that any attempt to accept Christianity is viewed as a betrayal of the Islamic faith, the clan and the tribe.
No religious activities beyond state-run and state-controlled institutions are allowed. A law on religion has been drafted (but not yet implemented) making the registration of church congregations almost impossible. Indigenous citizens converting to Christianity will experience pressure and occasionally physical violence.
Bahrain hasn’t been inside the top 50 since 2018, when it was number 48. Bahraini society is very conservative and since their constitution declares that the state religion is Islam and that Sharia (Islamic law) is the principal source for legislation, freedom of religion is limited to private places and designated houses of worship.
Please continue to hold persecuted believers from these countries in your prayers.
When a country falls outside of the top 50, it doesn’t mean that Christians are no longer facing persecution or that they no longer need any more help. It also doesn’t mean that Open Doors partners no longer support believers there. Although a country may receive less attention globally than when it is in the top 50, your prayers and gifts mean that Open Doors continues to be a faithful presence for believers and churches, strengthening them and upholding them in their walk with Jesus.
And, as we’ve seen this year with Niger, just because a country comes out of the top 50 doesn’t mean it stays out of the top 50.
Lord Jesus, thank You that You see, comfort and strengthen our persecuted church family all over the world. Help our brothers and sisters in countries outside the top 50 to continue to shine as lights in their communities and establish Your kingdom in their nations. Help us, their global church family, not to forget them in our prayers. May You continue to provide for them in every circumstance. Amen.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.