'Don't forget us. Christians here are suffering' - a spotlight on West Africa

Kwate was widowed by an attack on her village in northern Nigeria and is being helped by microloans provided by Open Doors.(Photo: Open Doors)

As Open Doors warns of the "Talibanisation" of West Africa, Christian Today speaks to the organisation's senior analyst on freedom of religion and belief in sub-Saharan Africa, Illia Djadi, about the threat to Christians in the region.

CT: Why is there increasing concern around West Africa?

Illia: West Africa has become the new epicentre of international jihadism - especially around Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Islamic extremists are taking advantage of the fragility of these states - the absence of the state and good governance, poverty, their porous borders, a lack of education and so on - and they are using these to divide the countries along ethnic and religious lines.

In Burkina Faso, there is a dramatic humanitarian crisis with around 1.5 million people internally displaced, 3,000 schools closed and around half a million children out of education.

CT: How are Christians being affected?

Illia: Christians are the primary targets of the extremists because the extremists want to establish a caliphate and Islamic republic, and the Christians are targeted because they are not Muslim - although the jihadists are also targeting moderate Muslims.

Northern Burkina Faso has been emptied of its Christian population. Some have been killed, others have been forced to flee. Churches and schools have all been closed down.

CT: Can the international community do anything to help stabilise the region and improve religious freedom?

Illia: The international community needs to pay attention to the complexity and scale of the violence because it is not getting the attention it deserves.

My fear is that with all the attention being on everything that is happening in Afghanistan, West Africa will be forgotten.

The international community needs to help to sustain good governance in these countries and there needs to be a holistic response because the military response has failed. A military response is not enough. There also needs to be social and economic development, more schools and more jobs. Because when there is a lack of economic hope, then the people are easy prey for recruitment by militant groups.

The international community should also support faith-based organisations and churches because they provided a lot of the social care and assistance to people in need but now because of the violence, they are overwhelmed and have become victims as well and so they are unable to provide this assistance. The international community should help them so that they can continue to carry out the good work they were doing for many years in providing support for people in need.

CT: What would you like Christians in the UK to pray for?

Illia: We are grateful for the attention of churches in the UK. Please continue to pray for Christians in West Africa and the Sahel region. Don't forget us. Christians here are suffering.

And pray for protection and for the Church and Church leadership to stand firm in the midst of the violence, persecution and killing.

Christians in the UK can also take action to support organisations like Open Doors and ask their MPs to put pressure on the UK government to support countries in West Africa. The UK government is a key player and can use the influence it has to support the Church, Christians and faith-based organisations.