On 14 April, 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 275 girls from their local school in Chibok, Nigeria. It was the Islamic extremist group’s largest abduction in a long campaign of kidnappings and it generated global headlines at the time, with even the likes of Michelle Obama speaking up on their behalf. One year on and most of the girls – Open Doors sources say 232 – remain missing, government assurances have come to nothing, and Boko Haram’s violence in the region has intensified.
Sadly, whatever their eventual fate, some of the girls will never see their parents alive again: the charity has learnt that parents of up to 20 of the girls have died due to stress-related diseases during the last year. Their deaths reflect the devastation caused by these kidnappings.
Chibok is just one of many communities which Open Doors is supporting as it lives with the aftermath of extremist violence.
Targeting Christians and other minority groups, Boko Haram has operated in the northern regions of Nigeria for over a decade. According to the 2015 Open Doors World Watch List (ranking the top 50 countries where persecution against Christians is most extreme), Nigeria is the tenth most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian.
With growing associations with Islamic State (IS) and utilizing the technological advancements of recent years, Boko Haram, and other indigenous violent groups, have become alarmingly effective at the systematic cleansing of ‘inferior’ minorities.
And the violence is not limited to Nigeria. The recent mass killing of 148 university students (of which the majority was Christian) by al-Shabaab in Garissa, Kenya, is the tip of the iceberg in what is a growing trend across Africa – the continent that is home to one fifth of the global Christian family.
Researchers from Open Doors World Watch Unit highlighted that there were two hubs for Islamic terrorism in the world – the Middle East and perhaps more surprisingly, sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, Kenya is the fastest rising country on the World Watch List- up from a ranking of 43 in 2014 to 19 in 2015.
Since the data was gathered, three more attacks on Christians have occurred in Kenya on a scale not previously seen.
CEO of Open Doors UK & Ireland Lisa Pearce says: “In January this year, we warned of a dramatic rise in the persecution of Christians in sub-Saharan Africa. Not only are the attacks happening in Christian-majority countries, but both the pace at which these attacks are occurring, and the scale of them, is increasing. And, of course, it is not only Christians who are suffering – Muslim girls were taken from Chibok too. The international community must use its influence to support a coordinated response against extremism.”
So, where are the Chibok girls? The Chairman of the Chibok parents group claims to know from a reliable source that they are still being held in a single group. Local sources say the likelihood is that they have been moved to another country, possibly Niger.
There are also worrying rumors emerging from Bama – a town in northern Nigeria that was liberated from Boko Haram – that the insurgents ordered mass executions before they fled. Although these reports are unsubstantiated, we can only hope and pray that the girls will either be released or can be safely rescued.
Open Doors is involved with the Chibok community and many others like it. Thousands of Open Doors supporters from the UK and Ireland have written letters of encouragement to the families of the girls in an expression of solidarity and support – a small act perhaps, but a powerful way of letting those families know they are not forgotten.
Both Pope Francis, Archbishop Vincent Nichols the Archbishop of Canterbury and other church headers spoke about the shocking increase of persecution against Christians in their recent addresses. Chibok is just one example.