DHAKA: Pope Francis called Thursday for "decisive" international measures on the Rohingya refugee crisis as he began a visit to Bangladesh, where more than 620,000 of the Muslim minority have sought sanctuary after fleeing violence in Myanmar.
"It is imperative that the international community take decisive measures to address this grave crisis, not only by working to resolve the political issues that have led to the mass displacement of people, but also by offering immediate material assistance to Bangladesh in its effort to respond effectively to urgent human needs," the pope said in a speech.
Pope Francis made his comments shortly after arriving from Myanmar, where he walked a diplomatic tightrope, staying away from allegations that the army is waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims despite pressure to publicly confront the incendiary issue.
He praised Bangladesh for taking in the refugees who have flooded across the border on an unprecedented scale since a fresh outbreak of violence in their native Rakhine state.
But as in Myanmar, he refrained from using the word "Rohingya", instead referring to "refugees from Rakhine state".
Pope Francis had been urged not to use the name in Myanmar to avoid provoking hardline Buddhists and making the country's Catholic community a target.
"None of us can fail to be aware of the gravity of the situation, the immense toll of human suffering involved, and the precarious living conditions of so many of our brothers and sisters, a majority of whom are women and children, crowded in the refugee camps," the pope said.