Pope Francis asked for forgiveness Friday from refugees in Bangladesh for all the hurt and persecution they have endured, demanded their rights be recognized and pronounced the word he had so assiduously avoided only days earlier in Myanmar: “Rohingya.”
In a deeply moving encounter, Francis greeted and blessed a group of Rohingya Muslim refugees, grasping their hands and listening to their stories in a show of public solidarity amid Asia’s worst refugee crisis in decades. He apologized for the “indifference of the world” to their plight and then pronounced the name of their ethnic group to a gathering of Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian leaders.
“The presence of God today is also called ‘Rohingya,’ ” he said.
The 16 Rohingya — 12 men, two women and two young girls — had traveled to Dhaka from Cox’s Bazar, the district bordering Myanmar where refugee camps are overflowing with more than 620,000 Rohingya who have fled what the United Nations says is a campaign of ethnic cleansing by Myanmar’s military.
The campaign has included the burning of Rohingya villages and fleeing Rohingya have described rape and shootings by Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist mobs that left them no option but to make the dangerous and sometimes deadly journey through jungles and by sea to Bangladesh.
The Myanmar government has denied any such campaign is underway.
Myanmar’s government and most of the Buddhist majority recoil from the term “Rohingya,” saying the members of the Muslim minority are “Bengalis” who migrated illegally from Bangladesh. Myanmar doesn’t acknowledge them as a local ethnic group and won’t give them citizenship.