Pope Francis on Monday mourned the plight of 200,000 Rohingya children stuck in refugee camps a month before he heads to Myanmar and Bangladesh, the countries at the heart of an intensifying humanitarian crisis.
“Two hundred thousand Rohingya children (are) in refugee camps. They have barely enough to eat, though they have a right to food. (They are) Malnourished, without medicine,” he said.
The pope will visit mainly-Buddhist Myanmar at the end of November before moving on to neighbouring Bangladesh, which has had to absorb more than half a million Rohingya refugees fleeing the violence across the border.
He has previously expressed support for the persecuted Muslim minority in Myanmar, calling them “brothers and sisters”.
During his visit, he will meet with Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize laureate who has sparked international dismay for her perceived lack of sympathy towards the Rohingya and unwillingness to condemn alleged atrocities by the army.
There are currently no plans for the Argentine pontiff to stop in strife-torn northern Myanmar state of Rakhine or the refugee camps in Bangladesh. But he risks provoking a backlash in any case with his messages of support for the Rohingya.
Inside Myanmar, anti-Rohingya hatred has festered for years. Many, including the army and government officials, refuse to use the term Rohingya and instead insist the group are illegal “Bengali” immigrants.