Dhaka – In his final leg of Asia visit to Bangladesh, Pope Francis has called on the international community to take “decisive measures” to resolve the refugee crisis unfolding between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
“It is imperative that the international community take decisive measures to address this grave crisis,” Francis told a gathering at Bangladesh’s Bangabhaban presidential palace on Thursday.
Ministers, lawmakers, diplomats and civil society members are among who attended the gathering hosted by President Abdul Hamid in honour of the leader of the world’s nearly 1.3 billion Catholics.
The Pope also suggested not only by working to resolve the political issues that have led to the mass displacement of people, but also by offering immediate material assistance to Bangladesh in its effort to respond effectively to urgent human needs.
Francis, who arrived in Dhaka on a three-day visit to Bangladesh ending his first leg of Asia visit to Myanmar, did not still directly mention the ethnic identity of the Myanmar’s persecuted Muslims.
Rather he referred to “a massive influx of refugees from Rakhine State” to mention the Rohingya Muslims who in their hundreds of thousands crossed into Bangladesh for shelter since the Myanmar army launched crackdown in August targeting the ethnic group.
He, however, lauded Bangladesh for sheltering the refugees and asked the international community to stand by the South Asian country to address the humanitarian needs.
President Abdul Hamid, who greeted Francis at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport on his arrival in the afternoon, accused the Myanmar army of carrying out “ruthless atrocities” on Rohingya minorities.
Hamid said thousands of them, including women and children, were brutally killed, women violated and their homes were burnt into ashes.
“Now, it is our shared responsibility to ensure for them a safe, sustainable and dignified return to their own home and integration with the social, economic and political life of Myanmar,” he said.
The President also praised the Pope for his laud voice to call the international community to bring to an end to the crisis.
An estimated 624,000 Rohingya Muslims, majority of whom are women and children, crossed the border in the face of an anti-insurgency crackdown began on August 25 by the Myanmar army.
The United Nations and United States called the clampdown as ethnic cleansing and urged the Myanmar authority to stop the violence. But the influx of Rohingya Muslims continued as fear haunted the people still living in the Rakhine state.
A small group of Rohingya are expected to join a Mass Francis plans to host in Dhaka’s Suhrawardy Udyan on Friday.
Komol Koriya, head of the media coordination committee formed ahead of the papal visit, the mass is expected to be attended by some 80,000 people from all faiths.
Pope says his visit was primarily to address Bangladesh’s Catholic community, but it would be a privileged moment to meeting with ecumenical and interreligious leaders at the park.
“Together we will pray for peace and reaffirm our commitment to work for peace. Bangladesh is known for the harmony that has traditionally existed between followers of the various religions,” he added.
The pope, during his Myanmar visit, refrained from speaking about the Rohingya following request from the Church to follow diplomatic norms, as officials in Myanmar do not recognize them as ethnic group and consider them to be ‘Bengalis,’ implying they are migrants from Bangladesh.
Before landing, the papal flight flew over Cox’s Bazar – where the Rohingya refugees are sheltered in squalid camps – on the way to Dhaka from Yangon.
Bangladesh has a tiny Catholic community with an estimated 375,000 people, who accounts for less than one per cent of 160 million population. More than 90 per cent of Bangladesh’s population are Muslim.
Patrick D’Rozario, the cardinal and archbishop of Dhaka, said the Papal visit is important for Bangladesh because the pope is the head of the Vatican on one hand and the supreme pastor of the Catholic Church on the other.
“It gives us a sense of pride that a tiny Christianity like Bangladesh is being given importance by the Vatican,” said Nirmal Rosario, president of Bangladesh Christian Association.
It is the second visit by a sitting pope in three decades. Pope John Paul II visited Bangladesh on November 19, 1986.