Pope calls refugees 'Rohingya' in meet

Pope Francis riding a rickshaw during his visit to St Mary's Cathedral in Dhaka, Bangladesh, yesterday. Pope Francis meeting Rohingya refugees in Dhaka yesterday. He arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar on Thursday for the second stage of a visit that
Pope Francis meeting Rohingya refugees in Dhaka yesterday. He arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar on Thursday for the second stage of a visit that has been overshadowed by the plight of the Rohingya.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He uses term for first time on Asia trip after Dhaka meeting with 16 refugees from camps

DHAKA • Pope Francis referred to refugees who have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh as "Rohingya" yesterday using the politically sensitive name for the persecuted minority for the first time on his Asia tour after meeting a group of them in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.

"Today, the presence of God is also called Rohingya," the Pope said after meeting the 16 refugees who were brought from their camps in Cox's Bazar near the border with 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.

The comments marked his first explicit reference to the persecuted Muslim minority since the start of his diplomatically fraught tour.

On the first leg of his current trip, in neighbouring Myanmar, he did not use the word "Rohingya" to describe the refugees.

The term "Rohingya" is disputed by the Yangon government and military.

Shortly after arriving late on Thursday, he urged the world to take "decisive measures" to resolve the crisis that has forced over 620,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing ethnic unrest across the border into overstretched camps in Bangladesh.

Most Rohingya are stateless and seen as illegal immigrants by Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

Pope Francis riding a rickshaw during his visit to St Mary's Cathedral in Dhaka, Bangladesh, yesterday. Pope Francis meeting Rohingya refugees in Dhaka yesterday. He arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar on Thursday for the second stage of a visit that
Pope Francis riding a rickshaw during his visit to St Mary's Cathedral in Dhaka, Bangladesh, yesterday. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Pope looked sombre as each member of the group, which included 12 men and four women, including two young girls, told him their stories through interpreters at the end of the gathering.

Earlier yesterday, Pope Francis led a giant open-air mass in Dhaka. Around 100,000 Bangladeshi Catholics crammed into a park in central Dhaka, cheering as he was driven through the crowd in an open-sided popemobile made specially for the occasion.

Security was tight for yesterday's mass, which follows a rise in attacks on religious minorities in Bangladesh by Islamist extremists.

Mainly-Muslim Bangladesh has a tiny Christian population but they turned out in large numbers for the service, many having queued for hours to get into the park where some 4,000 police and security forces had been deployed.

Mr Tapan Martin, 42 and from Dhaka, said he hoped the pope's prayers would help the Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh after crackdown by the Myanmar military that began in August.

Although the influx has slowed, hundreds of Rohingya refugees are still crossing into Bangladesh from Myanmar every day, according to the United Nations.

"We have come to see our great leader. We hope he can help our poor country as well as the Rohingya who have come here," Mr Martin told Agence France-Presse.

Pope Francis has praised Bangladesh for giving refuge to the Rohingya who have flooded in, bringing stories of horrific abuse at the hands of the Myanmar military and local Buddhist mobs, including rape, arson and murder.

He called on the world to offer "immediate material assistance" to Bangladesh, an already overcrowded country where one in four lives below the poverty line, to address their "urgent human needs".

Pope Francis will also meet Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist leaders during his three days in the country.

His visit comes days after the disappearance of a Catholic priest in the village where suspected Islamist extremists hacked a Catholic grocer to death last year.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2017, with the headline 'Pope calls refugees 'Rohingya' in meet'. Print Edition | Subscribe