The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, completed with the fall of Kabul on Sunday 15 August, creates great danger for Afghan Christians, all of them converts from Islam or the children of converts.
If they are caught by the Taliban, they are very likely to be killed. Although the Hanafi school of sharia, which predominates in Afghanistan specifies death only for adult sane male apostates from Islam (with imprisonment for adult sane female apostates), the Taliban’s track record of an ultra-strict interpretation of sharia means it is very likely they will kill all apostates, both men and women, and probably their children too.
But if Afghan Christians join the thousands of other Afghan citizens desperate to flee Afghanistan for various reasons, will they be able to reach a safe haven? Should they try and get to neighbouring countries overland, or try to escape by a flight from Kabul International Airport?
This latter option presents some big challenges, with no guarantee of success. This is how the system is currently working. The names of the Afghan Christians and their family members and contact details must be sent in advance on a list (a manifest) to the Americans, who control Kabul airport and decide who may fly out. The reason for their vulnerability must also be stated on the manifest – so for Christians the list will have to reveal that they are Christians. The Americans will consider this information and decide whether or not those listed on the manifest will be given permission to fly. Those who are accepted for evacuation must not go to the airport until called. If they arrive at the airport without being called, they are turned away.
Getting to the airport means negotiating many Taliban checkpoints in Kabul, each one literally a life-or-death issue for Christians. The process of getting to the airport involves mingling with thousands of Muslim Afghans also trying to flee the country by air.
Once they are in the airport, the Christians will be put on any plane that the Americans choose, which will fly them to any of a number of processing hubs in other countries. The Americans determine the manifests of each plane, and work through their priority lists. Therefore, even if one can get a private charter flight to land at the airport with the intention of rescuing Christians, those who funded and arranged the flight would have no say on who boards their plane. There might be no Christians at all amongst their passengers.
The deadline of 31 August is fast approaching, and we are told that not everyone on the agreed list will be able to get evacuated in the days that remain. Any Christians still waiting at the airport will run the risk of being exposed as the Taliban takes control of the airport once the American troops are withdrawn.
It appears that most Afghan Christians will need to make their way overland across a border somehow.
Afghan Christians are facing very difficult decisions, and Barnabas Fund is working hard, through our Operation Safe Havens, to find options to enable Afghan Christian families to reach a place of safety and security.
Barnabas Fund, barnabasfund.org