Government urged to ensure UK aid does not facilitate Christian persecution

UK aid must not facilitate the persecution of Christians, a religious freedom charity said tonight at the launch of an annual league table of the worst countries to be a Christian.

Open Doors' 2016 World Watch List highlights the 50 countries with the worst persecution record. The majority of these countries receive a substantial amount from the UK aid budget and Lisa Pearce, chief executive of Open Doors, called on the government to do more to prevent persecution against Christians which is "rapidly rising".

"We are at a unique time in our history," said Pearce, referring to the report's revelation that "global persecution of Christians is more extreme than ever before".

She called on the government to do more to tackle religious persecution and said she had urged David Cameron to ensure the UK's £12bn aid budget goes to the right sources and does not support the persecution of Christians.

"We have influence," she said at the event attended by many MPs and ministers. "We must not sit on the sidelines while Christianity is quietly eroded around the world."

Speaking to Christian Today afterwards, she urged the government to guarantee "our aid money is reaching the most vulnerable groups".

"In northern Nigeria aid is distributed by regional governmental organisations which are majority Muslim and it would be naïve to imagine Christians get a fair proportion of that. They don't."

Theresa Villiers, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland who launched the event, said it was important the "government as a whole takes this issue very seriously". However, "it would be difficult to look at a human rights record of a country and say under no circumstances would we give aid," she told Christian Today.

Fiona Bruce, the Christian Tory MP for Congleton, agreed with Pearce there was "plenty more" the government could do to ensure aid money was well spent, but said it was important to recognise "these are countries where there is serious suffering".

Giving aid was the right thing to do, said Bruce, but she called on the government to do more to help Christian refugees, in particular those who are not registered in UN camps.

Stephen Timms, Labour's faith envoy, also told Christian Today he thought more could be done, but said the government "does want to do more".

"We should use the influence the British government has because of our funding stream to persuade other governments to press for religious freedom," he said.

Open Doors' World Watch List details the countries with the worst record of persecution against Christians and is released annually. North Korea topped the table for the 14th year in a row with Iraq and Eritrea coming second and third. For a full report click here.