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Pope demands ‘decisive measures’ to resolve Rohingya exodus

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Pope Francis demanded Thursday that the international community take “decisive measures” to resolve the causes of the mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, breaking his recent silence over what the United Nations has declared to be a textbook case of “ethnic cleansing.”

Arriving in Bangladesh from Myanmar, Francis said it also was “imperative” for world governments to immediately provide assistance to help the Bangladeshi government cope with Asia’s worst refugee crisis in decades.

In a speech before Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid, government officials and ambassadors from around the world, Francis praised Bangladesh’s sacrifice and generosity in welcoming in so many refugees “before the eyes of the whole world.” He didn’t identify the Rohingya by name, ethnicity or faith, referring only to “refugees from Rakhine state.”

But his words were sharp.

“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.

“It is imperative that the international community take decisive measures to address this grave crisis, 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, a tireless and fearless advocate for refugees, outcasts and society’s most marginal, had drawn criticism from human rights organizations and Rohingya themselves for having failed to speak out publicly about the Rohingya’s plight while he was in Myanmar.

Francis had remained silent out of diplomatic deference to his hosts, who consider the Rohingya as having illegally migrated from Bangladesh and don’t recognize them as one of Myanmar’s ethnic groups. More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar and poured into Bangladesh refugee camps over the last few months amid a scorched earth campaign by Myanmar’s military.

 

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