Christian refugees flee ISIS.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Countries in the Middle East have shot up an annual list of places where vulnerable minorities are most at risk of genocide, political killing and systematic repression, a human rights group said on Wednesday.
Syria tops the 2015 Peoples Under Threat list, compiled by Minority Rights Group International (MRG). The civil conflict there, now in its fifth year, has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions.
said Christians, Shi'ites, Alawites, Kurds, Palestinians and political targets are particularly threatened.
"Extreme sectarianism...has now infected much of the country," it said in a report released with the list. "Only in the Kurdish-held regions of the north...has there been a serious attempt at establishing an inclusive democracy."
Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon and Afghanistan, countries where attacks attributed to the Sunni militant group Islamic State have taken place in recent months, all rank high on the list.
"The threat to the Middle East from ISIS should not be underestimated, but most people have more to fear from their own governments," said Mark Lattimer, MRG's Executive Director, using another name for Islamic State.
"Supporting anything or anyone who opposes ISIS could be a big mistake," he said.
Although the Middle East dominates the list, "of equal concern is the rise in risk in two of the world's major powers: Russia and China," Lattimer said.
In China, which has risen 15 places, simmering tension with the Muslim Uighur community has led to mass arrests, dozens of executions and more than 200 deaths in terrorist attacks, with little done to address the root causes of the unrest, said MRG.
Russia, 16th on the list, owes its high ranking to rising xenophobia against migrants and regular clashes in the North Caucasus between government forces and Islamist separatists.
Ukraine jumped a huge 39 places because of the suppression of human rights and mass displacement in eastern regions.
Other major risers were South Sudan and the Central African Republic, while Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Myanmar, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo were also high on the list. sign up to our newsletter