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Catholic Charity Raises Alarm Over Resurgent Christian Persecution in Burkina Faso

Bishop Laurent Birfuoré Dabiré of Burkina Faso's Dori Diocese. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

Christians who fled their homes in Burkina Faso have recounted how they lived in fear each day when they learnt that their lives were in danger owing to their religion.

The 17 people, a majority of them elderly men and women and children are part of the 147 who fled from Burkina Faso in two villages that the Pontifical charity foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Ireland, declines to name for security reasons.

One of the members of the group told ACN that they had left in the middle of the night so as not to be discovered, and that it was a real odyssey because the extremists were looking for them.

“The terrible thing is that when someone gave us refuge, we were denounced as Christians, and this put the person who had accommodated us in danger,” the Christian says in a Monday, November 8 ACN report.

The Christian who the charity organization does not name added, “We had to sleep at a distance from the villages. Not all the Christians in the area have been able to flee. We are concerned about the fate of our sons and wives who remain there.”

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ACN reported having received word that Christians in Burkina Faso are facing renewed threat from terrorism. According to the Catholic entity that advocates for religious freedom across the world, Christians in the Sahel region have been forced to flee their homes in fear of their lives.

The charity foundation has reported that armed groups are creating a reign of terror over the whole population, demanding taxes, and pillaging and robbing people in many parts of the country.

According to testimonies from displaced people collected by ACN in Burkina Faso’s Dori Diocese, however, some of them have been the object of severe persecution specifically because they are Christian.

“The modus operandi of the terrorists when they arrive in the villages is to ask for ‘taxes’ per head of cattle,” ACN reports, and explains, in reference to the terrorists, “They go to the cattle herders and ask for the owner of each animal. If they are not able to pay the taxes, they impound the animals. ACN has received reliable reports from local sources, according to which in recent weeks there have been cases in which the terrorists have first been asking whether the owner is a Christian or a Muslim.”

Witnesses who have lived through the latest attacks in Northern Burkina Faso have told ACN, “If the owners were Christians the attackers didn’t consider it necessary to count their animals, because they said that they didn’t just want to take their animals, but also to kill the owners.”

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According to reports received by the foundation, in the last week of October, a total of 147 persons, among them eight pregnant women and 19 children under five, had to flee from two villages on the Niger border, so as not to put the rest of the inhabitants in danger.

The displaced people who are now seeking refuge in Dori, the capital of the Sahel Region, explained that many of them had been recognized as Christians and the terrorists were expressly seeking them out to kill them for this reason.

The Local Ordinary of Dori Diocese told ACN that there are attacks, kidnapping, and murders in the whole country.

“The terrorists are kidnapping whoever they want to, executing some and liberating others,” Bishop Laurent Birfuoré Dabiré said, and added that the terrorists control various lines of communication and in addition frequently attack defense and security forces.

“Last Sunday, 31 October, the terrorists turned back the regular buses which were on the way from Dori to Ouagadougou, saying that from now on the road was blocked,” the Catholic Bishop said, and added, “Although the army afterwards patrolled the road, the people are afraid because this is only intermittent, and the terrorists can come back at any moment.”

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Bishop Dabiré lamented that Dori runs the risk of being cut off from the rest of the country, and that the situation is not getting better.

In his appeal for prayers for security in Burkina Faso, the Catholic Bishop said, “It’s really dangerous to travel by private vehicle or even public transport and people are afraid of being stopped on the way by an unexpected terrorist checkpoint. Please pray for the sad and dramatic situation in my diocese. The danger is growing all the time. We hope that those who have not managed to leave the endangered villages are able to do so safely in the coming days.”

In the last five years, ACN has funded 28 projects in the Diocese of Dori with more than half a million euros to support the pastoral work of the Church and launch emergency relief programs for Priests, women and men Religious and families of the displaced Catechists.

The Pontifical charity foundation reports that at slightly over 95.2 percent, the vast majority of the population in Dori is Muslim, followed by traditional religion at 3.2 percent and 1.6 percent are Christian. Of these, 1.22 percent are Catholic.