A Christian legal group on Tuesday warned of deteriorating conditions for Afghanistan’s religious minorities, and pushed for an immediate international response.
“The harrowing prospects for freedom, democracy and the rule of law, compounded by a deepening humanitarian crisis, are forcing thousands of Afghan men, women and children into displacement within the country, and compelling many more to seek escape from persecution and oppression,” said Giorgio Mazzoli, legal officer at the United Nations for ADF International, in an Aug. 24 statement.
“The unfolding situation on the ground requires an immediate, robust and coordinated response from the international community, whereby respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is considered as an absolute prerequisite for a credible peace and reconciliation process,” he stated.
Militants with the Taliban, an Islamic extremist group, seized control of Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul on Aug. 15. The group’s rapid advance came as many Afghan civilians and U.S. citizens sought to leave the country before the complete withdrawal of U.S. and other forces.
The Taliban previously controlled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001. imposing a strict interpretation of Sharia law. The playing of musical instruments, among other things, was banned, and girls were not permitted to go to school.
Afghanistan is over 99% Muslim, with the majority being Sunni. There are small groups of Christians, estimated to total between 10,000 and 12,000 people, including about 200 Catholics. Buddhists, Hindus, and Baháʼís also reside in the country, along with one Jewish man.
Many of the nation’s religious minorities, Mazzoli says, are converts from Islam— a crime punishable by death under Sharia law. Many Christians suffered harassment and intimidation even before the Taliban takeover; converts to Christianity are the frequent target of Islamic extremist groups.
Prior to the Taliban takeover, Open Doors ranked Afghanistan second on its World Watch List on persecution, “only very slightly less oppressive than in North Korea.” India has announced it will prioritize evacuating Hindus and Sikhs, two religious minorities that were driven almost to extinction under the previous Taliban rule.
Christian leaders and aid organizations have repeatedly warned that Afghanistan’s terrified Christians are bracing for a new round of persecution in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of the country. Many Christians lived in “a hostile legal and social environment” there for decades, even before the Taliban’s seizure of the country weeks ago, Mazzoli said.
The aid organization International Christian Concern (ICC) warned this week of “chilling reports” emerging of the Taliban “going door to door collecting the names of individuals who worked with the U.S. government during the war.”
“We are telling people to stay in their houses because going out now is too dangerous,” one Afghani Christian leader told ICC.
The man, whose name was withheld for security reasons, said Christians in the country fear that Taliban attacks on Christian communities, including “mafia-style killings,” would start soon.
The ICC report said that in some northern parts of Afghanistan, the Taliban have already enforced their strict interpretation of Sharia, and that “Men are required to grow beards, women cannot leave home without a male escort, and life is becoming more dangerous.”
In 2019, some church leaders in Afghanistan— about 30 in total— agreed to change their religious affiliation to “Christian” on national identity cards which all Afghans are required to carry. Government records thus now identify them as Christians, making them targets for Taliban harassment, World reported.
Caritas Italiana, a charity of the Italian Catholic bishops, has been present in Afghanistan since the 1990s. The organization has said the few Catholic priests and religious in Afghanistan are also being left with no choice but to leave. There is a single Catholic Church, located in the Italian embassy in Kabul, which is operated under the Catholic mission sui juris of Afghanistan.
Mazzoli also called on governments to temporarily halt deportations to Afghanistan and reconsider rejected asylum applications from Afghans who fear “persecution because of their faith or beliefs.”
A Vatican diplomat has urged countries to welcome refugees from Afghanistan. Bishops in Ireland and Australia have asked their governments to do more to take in Afghani refugees.
The U.K. government has announced plans to accept 20,000 Afghan refugees in coming years, according to the BBC. Canada has also announced that it will help to resettle 20,000 Afghans. Uganda has agreed to take in 2,000 Afghan refugees.
India is granting emergency visas to Afghan nationals for the next six months, and Mexico has also already welcomed asylum seekers arriving from Afghanistan. In Europe, some countries, such as Switzerland and Austria, have been more hesitant to take in refugees.