Pope Francis is to arrive Monday in Myanmar in an effort to draw global attention to the Rohingya refugee crisis.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church is to visit Bangladesh on Thursday.
The pontiff’s schedule does not include a visit to a refugee camp, but he is expected to meet with a small group of Rohingya in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital.
“I am coming to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a message of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace,” Pope Francis told Vatican Radio, “My visit is meant to confirm the Catholic community of Myanmar in its worship of God and its witness to the gospel.”
In recent weeks, Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed to the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, according to officials from both countries.
Despite the deal, Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario told the French news agency AFP, the situation remains “explosive and tough to resolve.”
“I am hopeful the Rohingya can be returned to Myanmar,” D’Rozario, the Archbishop of Dhaka, told AFP.
Reports said the deal was signed following talks in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, with Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and Bangladesh’s foreign minister, Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali. The French news agency AFP quoted Ali as saying, “This is a primary step. [They] will take back [Rohingya]. Now we have to start working.”
The U.N. refugee agency spokesperson said conditions in Myanmar’s Rakhine state are not in place to enable safe and sustainable returns.
“Refugees are still fleeing, and many have suffered violence, rape, and deep psychological harm,” Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said Friday.
D’Rozario, who was made cardinal by Francis in 2016, is still looking forward to the pontiff’s visit. There are about 360,000 Catholics in Bangladesh.
“The cries of the Rohingya are the cries of humanity,” D’Rozario said. “These cries ought to be heard and addressed. The main thing is to tell the people ‘We are on your side,” he said.
The cardinal spent two days visiting a refugee camp, speaking with families forced to leave their homes in Rakhine state.
“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.”
D’Rozario added that Bangladesh, though overcrowded and impoverished, deserves praise for its efforts in helping those fleeing violence.
“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,” he said.
About 600,000 people have fled Myanmar for neighboring Bangladesh, which is now undergoing its own crisis as it seeks to accommodate the Rohingya.
“It is not possible for Bangladesh alone to tackle this. The future looks very bleak,” D’Rozario said.