Pope urges 'decisive measures' on Rohingya refugees

Pope’s interreligious strategy pivots on combating religious violence

Pope Francis called on Thursday for "decisive" global action on the Rohingya refugee crisis as he began a visit to Bangladesh, where more than 620,000 of the Muslim minority have sought sanctuary after fleeing violence in Myanmar.

He also said "let's not turn away" from it. The violence escalated late August, when the military responded to an attack by Rohingya militants with a heavy crackdown. "We give you space in our hearts", the Pope said.

Through translators, he also spoke to a group of Rohingya refugees from three families, Crux reported, including 12 men, two women in niqabs, and two girls.

But on the advice of the local Catholic Church he avoided using the term Rohingya on his three-day trip to Myanmar earlier this week.

Pope Francis meets bishops in Dhaka Bangladesh Friday Dec. 1 2017
Pope Francis meets bishops in Dhaka Bangladesh Friday Dec. 1 2017

In recent months, more than 620,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar's Rakhine state to Bangladesh amid a police crackdown, which the United Nations has described as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing".

During his time in Myanmar, he avoided using the term "Rohingya", seen as incendiary to some in the Buddhist-majority country who deny they are a distinct ethnic group. 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 a partly open Popemobile made specially for the occasion.

Some 4,000 police and security forces were deployed for the mass in the mainly Muslim country, which has suffered a number of attacks on religious minorities by Islamist extremists in recent years. "I hope the Pope will pray for peace and harmony among all communities in Bangladesh".

Francis' comments came at the end of an interfaith gathering at the archbishop's house in Dhaka, which was attended by leaders from Bangladesh's Muslim, Hindu, Christian and Buddhist communities.

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The 80-year-old Roman Catholic leader has frequently sought to influence a world he sees as indifferent to the plight of refugees forced to leave their homelands, whether through poverty or conflict.

On Friday, the Pope is expected to meet a group of Rohingya refugees, as well as hold talks with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Christians make up less than 0.5 per cent of Bangladesh's population of 160 million and community leaders say some have left as it becomes more hard to practise their faith openly.

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