Pope can help but Rohingya ‘have to go back’: Cardinal

The top Catholic official in Bangladesh hopes Pope Francis's visit there and to Myanmar will bolster moves to alleviate the Rohingya refugee crisis that has put the neighbouring nations in the global spotlight.

Pope can help but Rohingya 'have to go back': Cardinal
Archbishop of Dhaka Cardinal Patrick D'Rozario. Photo: AFP

Despite last week's deal to return to Myanmar some of the hundreds of thousands of people housed in the world's largest refugee camp, on the Bangladesh side of the border, Cardinal Patrick D'Rozario warns that the situation remains both explosive and tough to resolve.

“I am hopeful the Rohingya can be returned to Myanmar,” D'Rozario, the Archbishop of Dhaka, told AFP in an interview ahead of Francis's visit.

“The international community wants it and the Holy Father's visit will prepare the minds and hearts of many,” he said.

The UN's refugee agency has said the conditions for a safe return of Rohingya to Myanmar's Rakhine state are not in place and Bangladesh indicated Saturday that the plan was for them to be housed in temporary shelters initially.

Despite the difficult backdrop, D'Rozario is looking forward to the visit of the pontiff who made him a cardinal in 2016, in a first for Bangladesh and its tiny community of 360,000 Catholics.

Francis arrives in Myanmar on Monday and will fly Thursday to Bangladesh.

His schedule does not include a visit to the vast refugee camp but he is due to meet with a small group of Rohingya in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital.

“The cries of the Rohingya are the cries of humanity,” D'Rozario said.

“These cries ought to be heard and addressed.”

The archbishop spent two days in the camp himself, speaking to families forced from their homes in Rakhine state by a campaign of orchestrated violence and intimidation condemned as ethnic cleansing by much of the international community.

“The main thing is to tell the people 'We are on your side',” he says, adding how he takes inspiration from Francis's oft-repeated description of the Church's role as being like that of a field hospital.

Caritas, the Church's humanitarian arm, is helping to feed 40,000 families in the refugee camp, an estimated total of around 300,000 people.

“Can you imagine? A small church like ours! Working with the Rohingya and taking care of a third of the refugees… our little church!”

Despite his pride in the pivotal role Bangladesh's small Christian minority has been able to play in the crisis, the cardinal admits the outlook is not good.

“I don't think Bangladesh can take care of the Rohingya in the long term,” he said.

“They have to go back but they will not go back unless there is certainty on their security, their citizenship, their right to land, right to shelter and also a mental security.

“The international response for relief has been satisfactory but how long will it last for? Generosity will not continue to flow as it did in the initial phase of the crisis.”

Overcrowded, impoverished Bangladesh deserves praise for its efforts to accommodate the refugees, D'Rozario added.

But inevitably there will be tensions because of the impact of the latest Rohingya influx on local tribal groups.

“There are a lot of tensions, social tensions. Land is not available. It's a very densely populated country, physically they don't have any space.

“I admire the local people (for their restraint), the population has more than doubled.

“There are environmental issues with all the trees cut to make shelters.

There will be landslides when there is big rain.

“It is not possible for Bangladesh alone to tackle this. The future looks very bleak.” 

READ ALSO: Aung San Suu Kyi's Nobel Peace Prize 'cannot' be revoked over Rohingya crisis: committee


Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy’s Easter Sunday message

Pope Francis proclaimed vaccines an "essential tool" in ending the pandemic in his Easter Sunday address and urged their swift rollout to the world's poorest countries.

Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy's Easter Sunday message
Pope Francis delivers his Urbi et Orbi Blessing, after celebrating Easter Mass on April 04, 2021 at St. Peter's Basilica in The Vatican during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / POOL / AFP)

On the holiest holiday for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics and the second under the shadow of the coronavirus crisis, the Pope focused his message on the world’s most vulnerable – the sick, migrants, people facing economic hardship, and those living in war zones like Syria, Yemen and Libya.

“The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor,” the 84-year-old Argentine said, speaking to a congregation of only around 100 people inside the vast St. Peter’s Basilica.

“Vaccines are an essential tool in this fight,” he said, calling on the international community to overcome delays in distributing vaccines, “especially in the poorest countries”.

READ ALSO: Children lead the way in Italy’s reduced Good Friday service

Francis, who has focused on the plight of vulnerable groups since becoming pope in 2013, had already warned rich nations against vaccine hoarding in an address to the UN General Assembly in September.

The pope said it was “scandalous” that armed conflicts around the world had not ceased. He called for an end to the war in Syria, “where millions of people are presently living in inhumane conditions”, and in Yemen “whose situation has met with a deafening and scandalous silence”.

A deserted St. Peter’s Square in The Vatican, after the Pope’s Easter Mass and Urbi et Orbi blessing during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

He also expressed his closeness to Myanmar’s youth – “committed to supporting democracy” – called for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and urged an end to violence in Africa, citing Nigeria, the Sahel, Northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.

“There are still too many wars and too much violence in the world,” Francis said, adding that April 4th marked an awareness day against landmines, “insidious and horrible devices”.

An Easter message in Lockdown before a key month in Italy

The Pope’s Easter “Urbi et Orbi” (To the city and the world) message in the Vatican came as 60 million Italians spent the Easter holiday under lockdown.

The whole of Italy, the first country in Europe to have been hit by the coronavirus, has been declared a high-risk “red zone” from Saturday through Monday, with restrictions on movement and restaurants closed along with non-essential retail.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: What can you do this Easter in lockdown Italy?

Despite the gloom, there have been hopeful signs that vaccinations are gaining pace in Italy, while infection rates dipped in late March – although emergency rooms remain under enormous strain.

April is set to be a crucial month for Italy’s vaccine rollout, with authorities hoping to administer 300,000 doses per day within two weeks, according to the country’s coronavirus commissioner, General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo.

Three regions, including that of Veneto, which includes Venice, are also preparing to slightly loosen their anti-coronavirus rules from Tuesday onwards, passing from the most restrictive “red” zone to “orange”.