With the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, governments around the world are frantically making plans to rescue as many at risk Afghans as they can. Germany, which has vowed to evacuate as many as 10,000, and the United Kingdom are currently coordinating with civil society partners to determine who is most in need of rescue and how they can be located and evacuated.
India announced last week that it will prioritize evacuating Hindus and Sikhs, two religious minorities that have already neared extinction in Afghanistan due to the Taliban’s brutal rule 20 years ago.
Canada has expressed a willingness to grant visas to religious minorities whose lives are presumed endangered under the Taliban. Among the country’s most vulnerable minorities are Christians. But the Christian community is becoming increasingly difficult to track down. And fears are growing that, for many, it’s too late and there’s no way out.
Afghanistan’s Christians are estimated to number between 10,000 and 12,000. The vast majority of them are converts from Islam to Christianity. For decades they have largely practiced their faith underground, as conversion is considered a crime punishable by death under Sharia Law.
Yet, since the Taliban’s fall in 2001, the Christian community has not only been growing, it has become emboldened, in part because of the modicum of security leant by the U.S. presence on the ground. In 2019, as the number of children born to converts grew, dozens of Afghan Christians decided to include their religious affiliation on their national identity cards so that future generations wouldn’t have to hide their faith. Only about 30 Christians successfully made this change before the Taliban’s takeover this week.
Now the United States’ highly criticized withdrawal has left Afghan Christians with no choice but to join those who cooperated with the U.S. and Afghan governments in attempting to hide. The memories of public executions, floggings and amputations of Christians and other religious minorities under the Taliban’s previous rule remain vivid. As the Taliban is reportedly already working to track down the known Christians on its list, some local church leaders are counseling their communities to stay inside their homes, even though they know the best and perhaps only long-term hope is to somehow flee the country. Other Christians are reportedly escaping to the hills in attempts to find safety.
Without any clear plan from the United States to evacuate Afghans under special threat, not to mention the remaining thousands of American citizens, Afghan Christians and many other religious minority groups are stranded. They know the Taliban is seeking them. Christians in hiding have already reported receiving threatening letters or phone calls saying, “We know where you are and what you are doing.” Without knowing how sophisticated the Taliban’s tracking capabilities are, Christians are turning off their phones to avoid surveillance and have started moving to undisclosed locations.