President Bashar al-Assad
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 dishonor.
Christians in Syria are allowed to meet for worship and community, though this has been restricted during measures to decrease the spread of COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, Christian ministers (and other religious leaders) have been exempt from restrictions on travel, and are able to meet with believers.
While Christianity is not banned by the government, there are laws that contravene certain rights: For example, a Muslim woman may not marry a Christian man, and a Christian divorcee has no custody rights for their children.
Christians from a Muslim background are particularly vulnerable to attacks by Islamic militants or by members of their own family. Sometimes, these families even request that local officials covertly monitor Christian converts.
“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.”
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.
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 the Islamic State group, 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.
Open Doors partners in Syria are supporting and strengthening the church through Bible distribution, discipleship and leadership training, trauma counseling, and support and rehabilitation for internally displaced Christians and refugees.