The impact of coronavirus on persecuted Christians

and the role British aid has played in helping


Submission by Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity that helps persecuted Christans


1. In Pakistan, there were reports that Christians, and other religious minorities, were denied emergency aid by some NGOs and Muslims leaders.[1] The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) stated that it was “troubled by reports of food aid being denied to the minority Hindus and Christians in Pakistan” following the coronavirus outbreak.[2] USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava said: “We urge the Pakistani government to ensure that food aid from distributing organizations is shared equally with Hindus, Christians, and other religions minorities.”[3] Cecil Shane Chaudry, Executive Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, a human rights organization in Pakistan, told Catholic Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that it was unfair for aid to be denied on the basis of religion. He said:COVID-19 knows no boundariesso how can it be fair to deny food and other emergency help to Christians and other minorities, especially when they are among those suffering the most at this time?”

2. Lockdowns have been exploited to continue the ongoing abduction of girls and young women from Christian and Hindu communities in parts of Pakistan. For example, on 28th April 2020, 14 year-old Catholic girl Maira Shahbaz was bundled into a car at gunpoint by three men who took advantage of the fact that the country was in lockdown.[4] She was forced to convert to Islam and marry one of her abductors, Mohamad Nakash. Her case was taken to court and she was eventually placed in a woman and girl’s shelter. However, the Lahore High Court subsequently decided that she should be returned to Mr Nakash. She escaped and is now in hiding and at risk of being killed by extremist mobs who consider her an apostate.[5]

3. A Church source from inside Pakistan told ACN that Christians in the country were facing severe economic consequences due to the pandemic. They said “Christians practically did not receive the state aid” and “a good number of Christians are teachers. They were not paid from March 2020.” They added that “poor Christians are finding it hard to send their kids to school and pay their fees” and that “Christians are having a hard time this year”. They finished by saying “with rape becoming common, parents are afraid to send their daughters to study or work.”


4. In China, the government has used the move to online services to increase surveillance and crackdowns on those found to be participating in allegedly illegal activities. Christian persecution watchdog, ChinaAid, posted footage of a police raid during a service in Xingguang, in Fujian province, the south-east of the country.[6] Footage of the incident, in May 2020, shows officials “raiding [and] violently dragging out members mid-service.”  The previous month, reports emerged that in March 2020 police in Hunan province entered the home of Zhao Huaiguo, a pastor in Cili, Hunan province, and arrested him for “subversion”.  China has taken advantage of the mass distraction that the coronavirus emergency has engendered and increased their persecution of Christians and other minorities. Many analysts have concluded that the situation for Chinese Christians has gotten worse. As one put it: “In a world distracted by pandemic, China’s government is aggressively consolidating dominance over its tens of millions of Christians.” [7]


5. The ongoing attacks in Nigeria’s Middle Belt have also intensified during the coronavirus pandemic. In a letter sent to Lord Tariq Ahmad, signed by members of Parliament, religious leaders and human rights groups, highlighted the situation in Nigeria. They identified: “heavily-armed men of Fulani ethnicity specifically target religious minority communities in central Nigeria and are taking advantage of COVID-19 lockdowns to intensify attacks on villages, killing or driving out inhabitants, and looting the areas.”[8] This reflects information of attacks from the Nigeria’s Christian community, including the killing of 32 Christians in their homes in Kaduna and Plateau States, while they were following state guidance regarding COVID-19 in early April 2020. The attacks were attributed to members of the Fulani herder community.

Role of British aid

6. As of July 2020, the UK had sent £764million in aid to combat coronavirus.[9] This has included new hand-washing stations and isolation and treatment centres in refugee camps.[10] There is extra support for Yemen, and £130million to United Nations agencies, including £65million for the World Health Organization (WHO).[11] 

7. A third of the UK development budget goes to aid agencies like the UN.[12] The evidence about how this money is spent is opaque, and it is difficult to ascertain whether any of this goes to help Christians. It has been widely reported that Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria usually do not go to UN-run refugee centres in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.[13]

8. Western governments, including the UK, often take a ‘faith blind’ approach to aid, not wanting to discriminate in favour of one group. However, this can cause problems as often minority groups, such as Christians, are in more need of assistance than other groups. For example, in Pakistan, according to the 2017 census, Christians make up 1.59% of the general population, yet account for 14.30% of victims of the countries blasphemy laws.[14] In Nigeria, over the last decade, 32,000 Christians have been killed according to a report by International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety).[15] The risk is that the UK is attempting to give aid equally in unequal situations.

9. There are questions that arise. Do agencies like the UN fully and comprehensively document how they spend British aid? If so, are there records available for British taxpayers so they can see how their money is spent? Does the UK have any intention of dropping their ‘faith blind’ distribution of aid in situations where it is clear one religious group is being persecuted by another? Has any of the aid given during coronavirus been targeted at religious minorities being otherwise overlooked in aid distribution? Have Christians or other minorities in countries where they are persecuted been specifically helped? The answer to these questions will clarify the extent to which British ODA has helped relieve the burden coronavirus has placed on Christian communities.

Fionn Shiner, Parliamentary and Press Officer
Aid to the Church in Need
26th October 2020

[1] John Pontifex, Christians denied COVID-19 aid, Aid to the Church in Need, 12th May 2020 [Accessed 12th October 2020]

[2] Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury, “Denial of food to Hindus, Christians in Pakistan ‘reprehensible’: US government”, The Economic Times, 14th April 2020, [Accessed 12th October 2020]

[3] USCIRF, “USCIRF Troubled by Denial of Food Aid to Pakistani Hindus and Christians”, USCIRF, [Accessed 12th October 2020]

[4] John Pontifex, “Christian girl, 14, abducted during lockdown”, Aid to the Church in Need, 19th May 2020 [Accessed 13th October 2020]

[5] John Pontifex, “Escape from the house of hell”, Aid to the Church in Need, 25th August 2020 [Accessed 13th October 2020]

[6] Caleb Parke, “Violence erupts as Chinese officials raid Christian church, drag out members”, Fox News, 7th May 2020 [Accessed 13th October 2020]

[7] Nina Shea, “The Attempted Shutdown of China’s Christians”, National Review, 23rd July 2020 [Accessed 13th October 2020].

[8] Charles Collins, “UK Foreign Office asked to help religious minorities during coronavirus pandemic”, Crux, 3rd June 2020 [Accessed 13th October 2020]]

[9] Department for International Development, “UK aid supporting the fight against coronavirus in the Middle East”, Gov.UK, [Accessed 21st October]

[10] BBC news, “Coronavirus: UK gives £200m in aid to developing nations”, BBC News, [Accessed 20th October 2020]]

[11] BBC news, “Coronavirus: UK gives £200m in aid to developing nations”, BBC News, [Accessed 21st October 2020]

[12] Michael Nazir-Ali, “Why can’t Britain’s foreign aid be used to help Christians too?”, The Spectator, [Accessed 21st October 2020]

[13] Ibid

[14] National Commission for Justice and Peace, A report on the Religious Minorities in Pakistan (Pakistan: National Commission for Justice and Peace (Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference), May 2018),

[15] Crux Staff, “Christians dying in Nigeria ‘in vast numbers’”, Crux, [Accessed 26th October]