MUMBAI, India – Over the past month, nearly 500,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh, after Myanmar’s military began what it called “clearance operations” last month.
“Bangladesh has not only opened the borders but also opened the hearts with love and compassion to the children, women, old, the sick, the wounded and even the thousands who are unborn,” said Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario, the Archbishop of Dhaka.
Speaking to Crux, the cardinal praised the actions of Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, in welcoming the refugees, calling it “an example of the motherliness of humanity.”
“Bangladesh is doing what she can, from her out of poverty she is sharing her richness of human values, the treasure of our culture,” D’Rozario said.
The Rohingya live mostly in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, and claim to be native to the area. There was also immigration from the neighboring areas of India, and what is now Bangladesh, during the precolonial and colonial era, but most families have been in the area for generations.
Rohingya have faced persecution for decades, and were denied citizenship under a nationality law passed by the government’s military regime in 1982, in which the Rohingya are officially considered “Bengali interlopers.”
The current crisis became even worse on August 25, when Rohingya insurgents attacked a police outpost.
The military then began what it called “clearance operations,” and Rohingya refugees claim this involved indiscriminate murder, arson, and forced removals. In addition, Buddhist mobs have been accused of attacking Rohingya across Rakhine state.
Nearly half of the Rakhine State’s million Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, where the army has been tasked with making sure there is enough shelter and amenities for the influx ahead of expected heavy rains.
“If not anything, at least the loving and compassionate gesture of Bangladesh should raise the consciousness of the world, make appeal to the consciences of total humanity and exert an interior pressure for the Myanmar authorities, in order to turn to humanity without having the need of any political, religious, ethnic and historical calculations,” D’Rozario said.
“The love of Bangladesh should put pressure on Myanmar to open the borders, their conscience and their hearts to receive their brothers and sisters back to their home with assurance of their dignity, rights and safety,” the cardinal continued.
D’Rozario is planning on visiting a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh on Sunday, and said Caritas Bangladesh – the main tool for the Catholic Church’s humanitarian outreach in the country – is waiting for permission from the government to go to the area.
Catholics make up less than 0.5 percent of Bangladesh’s over 160 million people. Despite its small size, the Christian community operates over 1,000 schools and 100 health centers in the country. Caritas Bangladesh is also one of the most important charitable organizations.
“In this present situation let the charity be the first and foremost concern. Let all of us, including the Church, be a hospital at the battlefield, urgently responding to the urgent needs,” D’Rozario told Crux. “Immediate charity is what is needed most. No other motives and issues should overshadow and make absurd the focus needed that is, concretely to show our love, compassion, solidarity to the refugees, the suffering humanity in this part of the world.”
The cardinal is due to welcome Pope Francis to Bangladesh from November 30 – December 2, immediately after the pontiff concludes a three-day visit to Myanmar.
Francis has been an advocate for the Rohingya, making his latest appeal for them during his Angelus on August 27, when he urged for them to be given “full rights.”
Francis has consistently spoken about the Rohingya during interviews, his daily morning Masses, Angelus addresses and his Wednesday general audiences.
On February 8, the pontiff asked the pilgrims gathered for his general audience to pray with him “for our brother and sister Rohingya.”
“They are good people, peaceful people; they aren’t Christians, but they are good. They are our brothers and sisters. And they have suffered for years,” the pope said, “tortured and killed” simply for carrying forward their traditions and Muslim faith.