Pontiff also mentions word ‘Rohingya’ for first time during Asia trip
Pope Francis has met with a group of Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh, asking them for “forgiveness” in the name of all of those who have “hurt you”.
The Pope also mentioned the word “Rohingya” in public for the first time during his trip to Asia, telling 16 refugees: “The presence of God today is also called Rohingya.”
“In the name of all of those who have persecuted you, hurt you, I ask forgiveness. I appeal to your large hearts to give us the forgiveness that we are asking,” he said.
The 16 Rohingya – 12 men, two women and two young girls – travelled to Bangladesh‘s capital Dhaka from Cox’s Bazar, the district bordering Burma where refugee camps are overflowing with more than 620,000 Rohingya who have fled what the UN says is a campaign of ethnic cleansing by Burmese troops.
They met Francis in the archbishop’s house during an interreligious prayer for peace.
The pontiff had previously been criticised for failing to mention the Rohingya directly while in Burma.
The Vatican defended his silence, saying Francis wanted to “build bridges” with the predominantly Buddhist nation, whose government considers the Rohingya as having illegally migrated from Bangladesh.
But on Thursday he did demand that the international community take “decisive measures” to resolve the causes of the mass exodus of the minority group from Burma.
Rohingya have faced persecution and discrimination in Burma for decades and are denied citizenship, even though many families have lived there for generations.
The United Nations has declared the Rohingya Muslim crisis to be a textbook case of “ethnic cleansing.”
Their plight worsened dramatically in August, when the army began what it called clearance operations in Rakhine state following attacks on security positions by a group of Rohingya militants.
Rohingya who are living in camps in Bangladesh have described indiscriminate attacks by Burma security forces and Buddhist mobs, including killings, rapes and the torching of entire villages.
Abdul Hamid, the Bangladesh president, accused Burma’s military of having committed “ruthless atrocities” against the Muslims and, in a speech to Francis, demanded international help to return them safely to Burma.
“Our people welcomed them with open arms, sharing food, shelter and other basic needs,” he said. “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.”
Burma says it has cleared its army of committing any atrocities against the Rohingya after the results of an internal military investigation were published earlier in November.