Pope Francis Urges Aid to Bangladesh to Assist Rohingya Refugees

Pope Francis visits the National Martyrs Memorial and plants a tree in the Peace Garden in Bangladesh on November 30, 2017. Photo: Cindy Wooden/Pool

Pope Francis on Thursday urged the international community to take steps to end the Rohingya refugee crisis, including providing more humanitarian assistance to Bangladesh, which is sheltering hundreds of thousands of people fleeing violence in Myanmar.

Speaking with President Abdul Hamid of Bangladesh, Francis said the international community must take “decisive measures” to address the Rohingya refugee crisis “not only by working to resolve the political issues … but also by offering immediate material assistance to Bangladesh in its effort to respond effectively to urgent human needs.”

“None of us can fail to be aware of the gravity of the situation, the immense toll of human suffering involved, and the precarious living conditions of so many of our brothers and sisters, a majority of whom are women and children, crowded in the refugee camps,” he said.

Francis met Mr. Hamid on the first day of his three-day trip to Bangladesh. Earlier this week he vitiated Myanmar, where he met with civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the military chief, General Min Aung Hlaing.

After meeting Ms. Suu Kyi on Tuesday, Francis urged “respect for each ethnic group and identity,” without explicitly mentioning the Rohingya.

Catholic leaders in Myanmar had pressured the pope not to refer to the Rohingya by name, but on Thursday he praised Bangladesh’s “spirit of generosity and solidarity … in its humanitarian outreach to a massive influx of refugees from Rakhine State.”

The Myanmar government considers the majority-Muslim Rohingya to be illegal immigrants in the country and refers to them as Bengali. More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since the military and police launched a crackdown in August. The U.N. has referred to the campaign as one of ethnic cleansing.

On Tuesday, the International Organization for Migration said over 1,800 Rohingya refugees had arrived in Bangladesh in the past week. Many are living in crowded refugee camps and depend on international aid. Earlier this month, the U.N. Children’s Fund said the malnutrition rate among Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh had doubled since May.