The cries of the Rohingyas are the cries of humanity, Dhaka archbishop says

A Rohingya refugee child cries as others wait in line for aid Sept. 22 at a camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. A Rohingya refugee child cries as others wait in line for aid Sept. 22 at a camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. (CNS photo/Cathal McNaughton, Reuters)

Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario, the archbishop of Dhaka, has described the recent attack on the Rohingya community in Rakhine state, Myanmar, as “a crime against humanity.” The attack, what a leading U.N. official described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” has driven more than 420,000 people across the border in recent days.

The cardinal praised the humane response of Bangladesh authorities to the crisis and appealed to the authorities of Myanmar to reopen its borders and let the Rohingya return home.

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The attack was described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by the U.N.

In a statement issued today, he praised the Bangladesh government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, for opening its borders to these suffering people who are “without dreams or hopes for the future.” He also praised the people of Bangladesh who have “opened their hearts with love and compassion to the children, women, old, the sick, the wounded and even the thousands who are unborn who are escaping.”

He said he hoped that Bangladesh’s “loving and compassionate gesture” would “raise the consciousness of the world” and would serve as an appeal to “the consciences… of the Myanmar authorities” calling on them “to remember their humanity without having the need to make any political, religious, ethnic and historical calculations.”

He expressed hope that Bangladesh’s loving action would “pressure” the authorities in Myanmar “to open its borders” and to “open their consciences and their hearts to receive their brothers and sisters back to their home with the assurance of their dignity, rights and safety.”

Significantly, Archbishop D’Rozario did not single out any individual or sector of the Myanmar authorities in his appeal. He is sensitive to the political situation in Myanmar. He knows that the country’s de-facto leader, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, has come in for intense international criticism over the plight of the Rohingyas, but at the same time, the military holds the power in this fledgling democracy.

In accordance with Myanmar’s constitution, the military has total control over the Ministries of Defense and of Home Affairs in addition to controlling the borders. Aung San Suu Kyi has to move carefully to avoid provoking Myanmar’s military leaders to take power again as it has done on previous occasions. That would be a great tragedy for the whole nation.

Cardinal D’Rozario, in his statement, said the Catholic Church in Bangladesh is responding as best it can to this tragedy: “The cries of the suffering Rohingya people have reached our ears; our eyes have seen their miseries; our hearts have been touched with compassion.” But, though he did not say so explicitly, it appears church relief workers have not been able to access the refugee camps.

He said the church, “through Caritas Bangladesh, is waiting with urgency for the permission of the relevant government agencies” in Bangladesh “to quickly go to the area to stand at the side of the victims and respond by providing food, clothing, water, medicine for their survival, and most of all to provide companionship of love and compassion to our brothers and sisters in need.”

Pope Francis will visit Myanmar and Bangladesh starting on November 27, and the cardinal thanked him because he “has always sided with the Rohingya victims. He is with us.” He also thanked Caritas Internationalis, the church’s relief and development agency, which “is fully committed to stand at the side of the refugees through the local Caritas Bangladesh.”

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, urged the Trump administration on Sept. 22 to aid Rohingya and the countries providing refuge to them, saying those fleeing the ethnic violence have "experienced so much suffering and pain over decades."

Bishop Cantu's letter to Rear Adm. Garry E. Hall, special assistant for international organizations and alliances at the National Security Council, also appealed for "durable solutions and protections to address the growing Rohingya crisis" and the possible resettlement of some non-Rohingya refugees for whom relocation is "the most viable solution."

The situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar was "complicated by long-standing ethnic divisions in a country where the military still exercises significant influence over governance and the economy," Bishop Cantu wrote.

Because several Muslim nations are rallying support for the Rohingya, the U.S. response to the crisis has implications for the American cooperation in addressing violent extremism across the Muslim world.

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Full text of Cardinal D'Rozario’s statement follows:

Cries of Rohingyas—cries of humanity

Humanity is being attacked in the world by so many people, in so many places and in so many ways. The latest attack and a crime against humanity on the Rohingya community in Rakhaine state of Myanmar has resulted in a huge exodus of people numbering more than 400,000 leaving their homeland and entering into Bangladesh without dreams or hopes for future, wishing only to save their lives from these sudden inhuman atrocities.

Despite these attacks, our humanity is not totally destroyed. As an example par excellence, Bangladesh has not only opened its borders but its people have also opened their hearts with love and compassion to the children, women, old, the sick, the wounded and even the thousands who are unborn who are escaping. It is an example of the motherliness of humanity, which is manifested by the prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, as well as by the people of the country. Bangladesh is doing what she can. Out of her poverty, she is sharing her riches, our human values, the treasure of our culture.

This loving and compassionate gesture of Bangladesh should raise the consciousness of the world, appealing to the consciences of and perhaps pressuring the Myanmar authorities, calling on them to remember their humanity without having the need to make any political, religious, ethnic and historical calculations.

The love of Bangladesh should pressure authorities in Myanmar to open its borders and open their consciences and their hearts to receive their brothers and sisters back to their home with the assurance of their dignity, rights and safety. This way humanity will once again be resurrected from the death being experienced and justified so insufficiently.

The church’s ethical and spiritual values have power that the merely politically powerful do not know—the powerful ones, whether in Myanmar or anywhere in the world, should learn this truth.

The cries of the suffering Rohingya people have reached our ears; our eyes have seen their miseries; our hearts have been touched with compassion. The Catholic Church in Bangladesh, through Caritas Bangladesh, is waiting with urgency for the permission of the relevant government agencies to quickly go to the area to stand at the side of the victims and respond by providing food, clothing, water, medicine for their survival, and most of all to provide companionship of love and compassion to our brothers and sisters in need.

Thanks to the Holy Father Pope Francis, who has always sided with the Rohingya victims. He is with us. Gratitude also to the Caritas Internationalis, which is fully committed to stand at the side of the refugees through the local Caritas Bangladesh.

In this present situation let charity be the first and foremost concern. Let all of us, including the Church, be a hospital at the battlefield, responding to these urgent needs. No other motives and issues should overshadow and make absurd the necessary focus on charity, that is, to concretely show our love, compassion, solidarity to the refugees, the suffering humanity in this part of the world.

Prayers of the local Church will always accompany those who are connected in one way or the other in the crisis, those who are concerned about the well-being of the suffering population and those who go to serve these people. Let the cries of the poor rise to God who is One for all.

Cardinal Patrick D'Rozario, C.S.C.
Archbishop of Dhaka
September 20, 2017

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