Pope hopes for peace in Yemen, Syria and other flashpoints

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This handout picture released by the Vatican press office on December 25, 2018 at St Peter's square in Vatican shows Pope Francis waving from the balcony of St Peter's basilica during the traditional "Urbi et Orbi" Christmas message to the city and the world. (AFP / Vatican Press Office)
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Pope Francis waves after delivering the “Urbi et Orbi” message from the main balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, December 25, 2018. (Reuters)
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Members of Swiss Guard are seen as Pope Francis delivers the “Urbi et Orbi” message from the main balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, December 25, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 25 December 2018

Pope hopes for peace in Yemen, Syria and other flashpoints

  • The pontiff said he hoped a truce in Yemen would end the war there
  • He also said he hoped for renewed peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis offered a Christmas wish for fraternity among people of different nations, cultures, faiths, races or ideas, describing the world's differences as a richness, not a danger, and championing the rights of religious minorities.
His plea Tuesday for stronger bonds among peoples came as nationalism and a suspicion of migrants are gaining traction across much of the globe.
The long war in Syria, famine amid warfare in Yemen, social strife in Venezuela and Nicaragua, conflicts in Ukraine and tensions on the Korean Peninsula were among the pope's concerns in his Christmas Day message, which he read from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.
Addressing some 50,000 tourists, pilgrims and Romans who flocked to St. Peter's Square on a mild, sunny day, Francis said the universal message of Christmas is that "God is a good Father and we are all brothers and sisters."
"This truth is the basis of the Christian vision of humanity," Francis said in the traditional papal "Urbi et Orbi" ("to the city and the world") message. Without fraternity, he said, "even our best plans and projects risk being soulless and empty." He called for that spirit among individuals of "every nation and culture" as well as among people "with different ideas, yet capable of respecting and listening to one another."
"Our differences, then, are not a detriment or a danger; they are a source of richness," Francis said.
Francis prayed that all minorities have their right to religious freedom respected, noting that some Christians were celebrating Christmas "in difficult, if not hostile, situations."
Communist China is witnessing a systematic suppression of religion, including some restrictions on Christmas celebrations this year. The government's suppression campaign includes re-education camps for Uighur Muslims and a crackdown on Christian churches.

Without specifying religions or countries, Francis prayed for "all those people who experience ideological, cultural and economic forms of colonization and see their freedom and identity compromised."
Francis urged the international community to find a political solution that "can put aside divisions and partisan interests" and end the war in Syria. He said he hoped that an internationally-brokered truce for Yemen would bring relief to that country's people, especially children, "exhausted by war and famine."
He encouraged dialogue among Israelis and Palestinians to end conflict "that for over 70 years has rent the land chosen by the Lord to show his face of love."
In Africa, Francis recalled the millions fleeing warfare or in need of food, and prayed for "a new dawn of fraternity to arise over the entire continent."
Francis urged Venezuelans to "work fraternally for the country's development and to aid the most vulnerable." Millions of Venezuelans are fleeing their country's economic and humanitarian crisis in what has become the largest exodus in modern Latin American history, according to the United Nations.
On Monday night, the 82-year-old pope celebrated Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.


Dhaka awaiting UN green light to relocate 100,000 Rohingya to $275m island

Updated 22 January 2020

Dhaka awaiting UN green light to relocate 100,000 Rohingya to $275m island

  • Nearly 30,000 refugees volunteer for move to Bay of Bengal camp which critics fear is in cyclone zone

DHAKA: Authorities in Bangladesh were on Tuesday still awaiting the green light from UN inspectors to start the controversial relocation of 100,000 Rohingya refugees to a newly built $275 million island camp.

Although Dhaka has insisted the tiny island of Bhasan Char is ready to begin receiving families, UN technical experts have yet to carry out health and safety checks.

“Although everything is ready on the ground, we are yet to fix a date to begin the relocation process,” Shah Kamal, senior secretary of the Bangladeshi Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, told Arab News. 

A UN team had been scheduled to visit the island in November last year to assess the safety of facilities and amenities on offer, but the inspection was postponed after Bangladesh asked the UN to explain the reasons for the checks.

“The UN is yet to finalize its technical expert team. Once it has, we will organize the assessment visit,” Kamal said.

Bhasan Char is located in the Bay of Bengal and was formed with Himalayan silt in 2006. In recent months, several international rights organizations have urged Bangladesh not to relocate the Rohingya to the island due to it being in an area prone to cyclones.

Bangladeshi authorities claim it is safe and includes barracks to house the refugees, cyclone centers, schools, hospitals, mosques, community centers, and children’s playgrounds.

However, following the international pressure, Dhaka said it would only move refugees who had volunteered for the initiative. “So far, we have enrolled 5,200 families who have registered voluntarily for the relocation and the total refugee number will be around 30,000,” Kamal added.

The UN says it has already sent details to the Bangladeshi government regarding the technical team’s visit to the island. 

“We are awaiting confirmation from the government regarding alternative dates, as we have shared relevant information with the government of Bangladesh regarding the objectives of the proposed onsite visits, which are part of a broader assessment process,” Louise Donovan, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees at Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News. 

“The UN has emphasized the importance of undertaking independent and thorough technical and protection assessments that consider safety, sustainability, and protection issues prior to any relocation taking place. The assessment process should include onsite visits to Bhasan Char,” she added. 

Bangladesh has already spent $275 million to construct the facilities on the island and make it habitable for the Rohingya.

The country currently hosts more than 1,150,000 Rohingya in overcrowded camps at Cox’s Bazar which the UN describes as the largest refugee settlement in the world. Around 750,000 of them have fled from the state of Rakhine, in Myanmar since August 2017 following a brutal military crackdown by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya people.