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Pope Francis arrives in Bangladesh; to meet Rohingya refugees

Pope Francis arrives at the airport in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on November 30, 2017. (AFP)
DHAKA: Bangladeshi President Abdul Hamid received Pope Francis on Thursday following the latter’s visit to Myanmar.

“Pope Francis’ visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh gave rise to great expectations from the international community, especially among the forcibly displaced people from Myanmar who came to Bangladesh and identify themselves as Rohingya,” said Anup Kumar Chakma, a former Bangladeshi ambassador to Myanmar.

But the pope’s visit to Dhaka is clouded by the fact that during his visit to Myanmar, he did not refer to the ongoing Rohingya crisis, use the term “Rohingya” or condemn operations carried out against the community in Rakhine state that led to their mass exodus into Bangladesh.

“It reflects how effectively Myanmar has been dealing with this issue diplomatically,” said Chakma.

The pope’s visit to Bangladesh is significant in that it may give momentum to the implementation of a repatriation accord recently signed by Bangladesh and Myanmar.

“This visit will draw more international attention and maintain pressure on the Myanmar government to ensure the sustainable repatriation of refugees,” said Dr. Delwar Hossain, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University.

The pope is scheduled to meet a group of Rohingya on Friday in Dhaka. “It has indirect value and impact on world leaders,” said Hossain.

But former Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Shomsher Mobin Chowdhury told Arab News: “I don’t think Pope Francis will play any diplomatic role in devising a solution to the Rohingya crisis. We’ve signed a bilateral memorandum of understanding with Myanmar, and we should concentrate on moving forward with this diplomatic approach.”

The pope concluded his first of three days in Bangladesh at a dinner hosted by the president, where he met politicians, diplomats and civil society leaders.