Pope refers to ‘Rohingya’ after meeting refugees

DHAKA: Pope Francis referred to refugees who have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh as “Rohingya” on Friday, using the politically sensitive name for the persecuted minority for the first time on his Asia tour after meeting a group of them in Dhaka. “Today the presence of God is also called Rohingya,” the pope said after an emotional encounter with refugees who have fled violence in neighbouring Myanmar.
“Let us continue to do the right thing and to help them. Let us continue to work to ensure that their rights are recognised,” he said.
“Let us not close our hearts, let us not look the other way.”
He made the comments after speaking to some of the refugees whose desperate plight has dominated his landmark tour of Myanmar and Bangladesh.
They had travelled to Dhaka from the teeming camps in southern Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands have arrived in recent months after fleeing a crackdown by the Myanmar military that the United Nations has described as ethnic cleansing.
The pope had earlier faced criticism for not using the word “Rohingya” in mainly-Buddhist Myanmar, where the stateless Muslim minority are widely reviled as illegal immigrants.
The term is politically sensitive because many there refuse to see the Rohingya as a distinct ethnic group.
Pope Francis led a giant open-air mass in Dhaka on Friday ahead of finally coming face to face with Rohingya refugees.
Around 100,000 Bangladeshi Catholics crammed into a park in central Dhaka, cheering and chanting “viva il papa” (“long live the pope”) as Francis was driven through the crowd in an open-sided popemobile made specially for the occasion.
Shortly after arriving from neighbouring Myanmar late on Thursday, he urged the world to take “decisive measures” to resolve the crisis that has forced more than 620,000 Rohingya fleeing ethnic unrest across the border into overstretched camps in Bangladesh.
Francis has praised Bangladesh for giving refuge to the Rohingya who have flooded in, bringing stories of horrific abuse. — AFP