Pope Francis called Thursday for “decisive” international action on the Rohingya refugee crisis as he began a visit to Bangladesh. More than 620,000 of the Muslim minority have sought sanctuary in Bangladesh after fleeing violence in Myanmar. The pontiff made the comments in a speech shortly after arriving from Myanmar, where he walked a diplomatic tightrope. He stayed away there from mentioning the army’s crackdown on Rohingya Muslims. “None of us can fail to be aware of the gravity of the situation, the immense toll of human suffering involved,” the pope said, as cited by AFP. He praised Bangladesh for taking in the mass exodus across the border into overcrowded makeshift camps.
Pope Francis wrapped up his visit to Myanmar on Thursday with a Mass for young people before heading to neighboring Bangladesh. Francis has so far refrained from speaking out about the Muslim Rohingya refugee crisis out of diplomatic deference to his hosts in Myanmar. The Vatican said the Pope wants to “build bridges” with the predominantly Buddhist nation. However, human-rights groups and Rohingya themselves have expressed disappointment that the pontiff, an advocate for refugees, refrained from condemning what the UN has said is a textbook case of ethnic cleansing, AFP said. Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Francis took seriously the advice given to him by the local Catholic Church. It urged him to toe a cautious line and not even refer to the “Rohingya” by name during his trip.