LONDON: Pervasive persecution of Christians, sometimes amounting to genocide, is ongoing in parts of the Middle East, and has prompted an exodus in the past two decades, said a UK-commissioned report.
The report commissioned by British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt was published on Thursday, the Guardian reported. It said millions of Christians in the region have been uprooted from their homes, and many have been killed, kidnapped, imprisoned and discriminated against.
The report also highlighted discrimination across south-east Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and in east Asia - often driven by state authoritarianism.
It shows that a century ago, Christians comprised 20 per cent of the population in the Middle East and north Africa, but since then the proportion has fallen to less than 4 per cent, or roughly 15 million people.
In the Middle East and north Africa, "forms of persecution ranging from routine discrimination in education, employment and social life up to genocidal attacks against Christian communities have led to a significant exodus of Christian believers from this region since the turn of the century".
"In countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia the situation of Christians and other minorities has reached an alarming stage. In Saudi Arabia there are strict limitations on all forms of expression of Christianity including public acts of worship. There have been regular crackdowns on private Christian services.
"The Arab-Israeli conflict has caused the majority of Palestinian Christians to leave their homeland. The population of Palestinian Christians has dropped from 15 per cent to 2 per cent," the report added.
It identified three drivers of persecution: political failure creating a fertile ground for religious extremism; a turn to religious conservatism in countries such as Algeria and Turkey; and institutional weaknesses around justice, the rule of law and policing, leaving the system open to exploitation by extremists.
Defending the claim of genocide, the report said: "The level and nature of persecution is arguably coming close to meeting the international definition of genocide, according to that adopted by the UN."