Persecution of Christians Overseas

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:49 pm on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society) 2:49 pm, 18th July 2019

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. As Christians in this country, we have become very comfortable in our freedom to believe as we do, and we should always have at the forefront of our minds that our brothers and sisters around the world are not in such a privileged position. His Holiness Pope Francis said recently:

“It might be hard for us to believe, but there are more martyrs today than in the first centuries. They are persecuted because they speak the truth and proclaim Jesus Christ to this society.”

Increasingly, however, society’s response to those speaking that truth is to imprison torture, kidnap or murder them. As we have heard, the Open Doors charity publishes an annual watchlist of countries where it believes persecution to be extreme, very high or high. One country was on that list five years ago: North Korea. Today, no fewer than 11 countries are considered to be in the extreme category, and we have all watched in horror the systematic attempt to eradicate all traces of Christianity from the ancient middle east homeland that we all love.

Of course, many charities and NGOs are working hard and doing some great work, and I pay tribute to the work done by Aid to the Church in Need, which funds over 5,000 projects in 140 countries each year, helping to support persecuted Christians live out their faith and provide practical and spiritual support to millions of people. In January, I was privileged to join Aid to the Church in Need on a visit to Lebanon and the Syrian border to see that practical and spiritual support and action for myself. We met Christian families who had fled Syria, Iraq and other places in the middle east to seek refuge in Lebanon and who would be destitute were it not for the day-to-day support and pastoral care provided by ACN.

On the feast of the Epiphany in January, in the town of Zahlé on the Syrian border, we went to a food centre called Saint John the Merciful Table, where ACN, along with the Melkite Greek Catholic archdiocese, provides 1,000 people with a hot meal every single day. It was a small but wonderful example of how Christian organisations are helping those fleeing persecution.

However, given the number of people in need, the situation cannot be left to charities and NGOs, which is why I commend the Bishop of Truro’s report. I sincerely hope that the Government take heed of what it says and act upon its recommendations. In particular, I urge the Government to heed his words about the UK being a global leader when it comes to championing the freedom of religion or belief across the world. I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Member for Croydon South that the UK Government must be prepared to impose meaningful sanctions against perpetrators who abuse the religious belief of others.

Finally, as the chair of the all-party group on the Yazidi people, as we approach the fifth anniversary of the genocide, I highlight the Bishop’s recommendation that the Foreign Office should take a lead role in pursuing the prosecution of the perpetrators of sex crimes against Yazidi and Christian women, and not only as terrorists.