UK foreign aid could be linked to progress on religious freedom

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt says the Government “should do more” to help persecuted Christians and suggested UK aid could be tied to progress on the issue.

Replying to MPs’ questions this week Mr Hunt highlighted work by Christian charity Open Doors on the growing problem of persecution abroad.

The Foreign Secretary said an ongoing review would make sure the UK is putting pressure on regimes to change.


Where the UK makes large aid payments, such as in Afghanistan, he said “it is absolutely essential that we make it clear to the Government in those countries that we are expecting progress on freedom of religious belief”.

However, he did not lay out specific actions.

On China, which is currently in the spotlight for poor treatment of Christians, he struck a softer tone.

“Of course China is an important country with which we have critical relations in the world”, Mr Hunt said, before adding that it was important to ‘raise concerns’.


The Foreign Secretary also told MPs that while the UK has “long championed freedom of religion”, “I think we should do more for the estimated 240 million Christians who face persecution for their faith around the world”.

In 2017, the UK foreign aid budget was £13.9 billion.

Previously Afghanistan has been among the largest recipients – receiving some £300 million.

Bishop’s review

Mr Hunt announced the review on Christian persecution at the beginning of the year.

It is being led by the Bishop of Truro Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen and aims to map the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

It will also assess how much support the UK currently offers, and make recommendations on how Government ministers should respond.

Thousands killed

In its 2019 report, Open Doors estimated that over 4,300 Christians were killed because of their faith over the last year.

However, the true figure is thought to be much higher, with friends and relatives said to be afraid to report killings.

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