Pope Francis today arrived in Bangladesh on a historic visit to the Muslim-majority country during which the raging issue of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar is likely to figure prominently. A red carpet welcome was accorded to the 80-year-old pontiff who arrived here on a special plane for a three-day visit after wrapping up his Myanmar tour during which he sent out a message that justice and human rights are the foundation of peace, in an apparent reference to the Rohingya crisis. President Abdul Hamid received the pope at Dhaka’s Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
A contingent of Bangladesh’s armed forces gave him a guard of honour. His programmes include a visit to the National Memorial for Liberation War martyrs and Bangabandhu Memorial Museum apart from joining a civic reception at Bangabhaban presidential palace. Security has been stepped up for the pope. It is the second leg of pope’s tour to the region amid the heightened Rohingya crisis. The pope strongly condemned the “persecution of our Rohingya brothers”, denounced their suffering because of their faith and called for them to receive “full rights”.
However, during the Myanmar visit, he preferred not to use the word “Rohingya” in public, drawing criticism. The Vatican, however, defended his silence, saying the pope wants to “build bridges” with the predominantly Buddhist nation. About 620,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine State to Bangladesh since August to avoid military crackdown at their home. This is the second visit to Bangladesh by a pope. Pope John Paul II visited the country in 1986.
Rohingyas, who have faced persecution and discrimination in Myanmar for decades, are denied citizenship. Though they lived there for generations, the situation worsened in August when the army began what it called clearance operations in the northern Rakhine state following attacks on security positions by Rohingya militants