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Pope in Bangladesh for Meeting with Rohingya

Pope in Bangladesh for Meeting with Rohingya

Friday, 1 December, 2017 - 09:45
Pope Francis greets believers as he arrives for a mass in Dhaka, Bangladesh December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Pope Francis arrived on Thursday to mainly-Muslim Bangladesh where he would meet face to face with Rohingya refugees whose desperate plight has dominated his landmark tour of Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The papal plane that departed from Myanmar – where the first leg of his 21st apostolic journey took place – arrived shortly after 10 am local time at Dhaka’s international airport.

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 an open-sided popemobile made especially for the occasion.

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

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

But as 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.

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".

Later Friday he will speak with 16 Rohingya refugees, including two children, who have traveled to Dhaka from the teeming camps on the border to meet him.

"When I meet him, I would like to tell him about our plight, about how Myanmar's military tortured us, killed us, raped our women, about the kind of persecution we have been facing," AFP quoted 35-year-old refugee Abul Fayaz as saying.

"We want him to help us get Rohingya citizenship, ensure our safety, help us move freely to wherever we want... and most importantly make a way so we can say our prayers with freedom like they (Buddhists) do."

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

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

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