Syria has about 677,000 Christians, about 3.6 per cent of a population of almost 19 million. The number of Christians in the country has decreased in the past decade, as many have fled conflict and persecution.
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 Christians, 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 dishonour.
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.
“I see men, women and children crying of hunger. It’s tragic. Our church saw that now was a time to stand by the people, support them and show Jesus’ love in difficult times.”Pastor George
What has changed compared to last 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.
Open Doors partners in Syria are supporting and strengthening the church through Bible distribution, discipleship and leadership training, trauma counselling, and support and rehabilitation for internally displaced Christians and refugees.
- 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.
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.