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Pope says his defense of Rohingya got through in Myanmar

Pope Francis gestures during a news conference on board of the plane during his flight back from a trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, Dec 2, 2017. Reuters

Sofian Khan

On Saturday, Pope Francis stated his strategy of avoiding the term “Rohingya” while his visit in Myanmar believing that both the civilian and military leadership was able to get his message without shutting down dialogue.Upon his return at Rome, the Pope to the reporters said that he has been firm with Myanmar’s military leaders during some private meetings. He was able to make them realize the need of their respect to the rights of Rohingya refugees.Also, he disclosed that he cried as he met a group of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh on Friday. There he stood to defend their rights by name in an emotional meeting. Pope regarding this said, “For me, the most important thing is that message gets through, to try to say things one step at a time and listen to the responses”.“I knew that if in the official speeches I would have used that word, they would have closed the door in our faces. But (in public) I described situations, rights, said that no one should be excluded, (the right to) citizenship, in order to allow myself to go further in the private meetings,” added the Pope.
The Pontiff on the first leg of the trip in Myanmar did not use the term Rohingya. As a matter of sorrow, the Buddhist centric country doesn’t recognize the refugees (mostly Muslims) as an ethnic group but as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. From the fear of spark a backlash against the Christians and other minority groups, the local authorities of Roman Catholic Churches advised his not to say it. Shortly after his arrival at Yangon, the nation’s biggest city on Monday, the Pope visited Myanmar’s military leaders privately.

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