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Churches in Burkina Faso abandoned as Christians flee violence from radical Jihadists

by Tola Mbakwe
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Churches across the North of Burkina Faso are being left deserted as Christians flee escalating violence from armed Jihadist groups.  

More than one million people are now displaced in the West African nation in what the UN Refugee Agency has said is now 'the world's fastest-growing humanitarian and protection crisis'. 

Persecution watchdog Open Doors said while the violence does not affect Christians exclusively, there is no doubt that they are specifically targeted which is sending emergency assistance to people in Internally Displaced Camps (IDPs).

According to one pastor in the north of the country, there are no open churches in the north eastern triangle of Burkina Faso.

"Christians have fled to different refugee camps or safe cities such as Kaya, Kongoussi, Sapouy, Djibo, Ye or Ouagadougou," Pastor Karim said.  

Open Doors' senior analyst on freedom of religion and belief in sub-Saharan Africa Illia Djadi said: "Catholic Christians have been and identified by their names or by wearing crosses and killed.  

"Others have been slaughtered when militants stormed their church services and Christian leaders, including pastors and bishops, have also been targeted and murdered.  

"An unknown number of pastors and their families have been abducted and remain in captivity.  

"In Hitte and Rounga, Christians were given an ultimatum to convert to Islam or leave as part of a program to sow terror. Jihadists assassinated Christians and forced remaining believers to flee after threatening that they would return." 

Describing one attack, Pastor Joel, from Sebba in the Sahel region of eastern Burkina Faso, said: "One evening unknown gunmen killed a deacon and abducted his two daughters, before going to a pastor's house where they abducted him, his son and three other boys too.  

"The deacon's two girls were later released with a message from the jihadists saying that did not want to come back and find any teachers or Christians there. They warned the girls that they would kill them if they did not pass on the message.  

"Two days later, the pastor and the boys were found dead. We left Sebba after that." 

Burkina Faso, a predominantly Muslim country, has long been a beacon of religious tolerance, known for the peaceful cohesion between different faith groups. The country's 2012 constitution guarantees freedom of religion.

Djadi told Premier: "his is a dramatic situation affecting Burkina Faso for different reasons. Burkina Faso is known for years for its peaceful coexistence between the religious communities. But last year, particularly, this coexistence was undermined by an Islamist insurgency attacking people, trying to divide them.  Almost a year ago, we tried to raise the alarm when we noticed attacks and now it has become a large scale humanitarian situation affecting more than a million people. 

"Pray for safety and pray for the church leadership to have wisdom on how to deal with these difficult circumstances.  Pray for the political leadership because it's the role of the State to provide safety and security for all, whether Christians or not. Unfortunately, the state doesn't have that ability to provide that immediate security." 

Open Doors has called on the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to people displaced by the violence and to support the G5 Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Niger, in their efforts to ensure security and continued development.  

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