Christians being denied food aid during COVID-19 pandemic

Catholics hold the holy cross while attending a mass as part of a three-day conclusion to the Holy Year celebrations at the La Vang Basilica, in Vietnam's central Quang Tri province January 5, 2011.
Catholics hold the holy cross while attending a mass as part of a three-day conclusion to the Holy Year celebrations at the La Vang Basilica, in Vietnam's central Quang Tri province January 5, 2011. | REUTERS/Kham

As the world goes through food security and financial crises due to the coronavirus pandemic, disadvantaged Christian communities in Asia, especially in Vietnam and Pakistan, are being hit the hardest as government and aid agencies discriminate against them due to their faith, according to reports.

In the communist country of Vietnam in Southeast Asia, the government is denying food aid to more than 100 Christians, including children and the elderly, according to Open Doors, a ministry to persecuted Christians worldwide.

“You are Christians and your God shall take care of your family!” authorities told 18 Christian families, comprising 107 people, in north Vietnam. “The government is not responsible for your families!”

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A local partner of Open Doors, which was not identified due to security reasons, said, “They strive to put food on their tables, and they consume their rice little by little every day. When they learned that the government’s support was coming to their district, they were so happy — only to find out that they were not on the list because they are Christians.”

Christians often face ostracism, threats, torture and prison sentences in Vietnam, whose atheist government doesn’t tolerate any faith or ideology other than communism.

Vietnam’s communist regime, which requires its officials to use a secret 600-page manual to repress religion, fears Christianity, which involves building a community of believers and promotes respect for human dignity. The government views citizens’ freedom to form associations as a threat to its power, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.

Vietnam ranks as the 21st worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List.

“Estimates indicate that approximately 80 percent of the country’s Christians belong to the country’s ethnic minorities, like the Hmong, and face social exclusion, discrimination and attacks. Ethnic minority Christian children are discriminated against in schools; their medical needs also are often neglected. Some are not even allowed to attend school at all,” according to Open Doors.

In Pakistan, Muslim charities are excluding Christians from their distribution of food aid and emergency, according to Vatican News, which cited the international Catholic charity and foundation Aid to the Church in Need.

ACN International Executive President Thomas Heine-Geldern said that many Christians earn the lowest wages, working as daily-wage laborers, domestic servants, cleaners, or kitchen staff.  “All these areas of employment are precisely the ones that have been most impacted by the economic shutdown,” he said after being briefed by Cecil Shane Chaudhry, executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

“Many Christian employees have been dismissed without notice by families for whom they have worked for years,” Heine-Geldern added.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also took note of discrimination in aid distribution in Pakistan. “As COVID19 continues to spread, vulnerable communities within Pakistan are fighting hunger and to keep their families safe and healthy. Food aid must not be denied because of one’s faith,” Anurima Bhargava, a USCIRF commissioner said.

Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List ranks Pakistan as the fifth worst nation in the world in persecuting Christians. “Although there have been no major bombing attacks against church buildings in the 2020 World Watch List reporting period, dozens of smaller ‘everyday attacks’ against churches and cemeteries occur,” the ministry says.

Christians are often targeted both by Pakistan’s blasphemy laws meant to protect Islamic sensitivities and by hardliners who carry out violence and have killed scores of believers in the past several years.

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