On the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to Bangladesh and Myanmar, members of the Rohingya community in Auckland alongside Amnesty International New Zealand and people of different faiths gathered outside St Patrick’s Cathedral to thank the Holy Father for his solidarity with the “most oppressed minority on earth”.

Rohingya refugee Anayat Ullah said he hoped the Pope would use the term Rohingya to acknowledge their existence as a people. The group gathered at St Patrick’s Square in Auckland on November 27.

The United Nations had described Rohingyas as the “most persecuted minority on earth” as they have been denied citizenship as well as access to basic needs and education.

“We are really thankful to the Pope for his visit to Myanmar. I would urge him to use the term Rohingya because we do belong to this ethnic group. Denying to us the term Rohingya is like denying to call Maori as Maori,” Mr Ullah said.

The Catholic News Service (CNS) earlier reported Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon,Myanmar  publicly urging Pope Francis not to use the word “Rohingya” for fear of inciting Buddhist nationalists and the military.

In February this year, Pope Francis appealed to the Burmese government to stop the persecution of this minority group.

Vatican Press Office Director Greg Burke told reporters they would have to listen to the pope’s speeches to see if he accepted that suggestion as well, the CNS reported.

The term is politically contentious as Myanmar government would prefer to call them “Bengalis” perpetrating the myth that the Rohingyas are illegal migrants, Mr Ullah explained.

But he said, Rohingyas had been in Myanmar for centuries.

Amnesty International New Zealand (AINZ) Executive Director Grant Bayldon said their organisation found that what is happening in Myanmar is both “ethnic cleansing and apartheid”.

“Both of those crimes are considered crimes against humanity. What that means is that those crimes are so big they affect all of us,” he said. “This is an issue that transcends nationality, ethnicity, faith [and] belief.”

Mr Bayldon thanked the small group of people who gathered outside the cathedral to support the Pope.

“We’ve got people here from local Buddhist communities, local Christian communities, Rohingya communities. And really the message is that we all stand together on this issue,” he said.

New Zealand’s first refugee MP Golriz Ghahraman said it was heartwarming to stand with people of diverse faiths calling for an end to the cruel treatment of Rohingyas.

She also praised Pope Francis “who also consistently called for humane treatment of refugees.”

“Right now, he’s travelled to Myanmar and brought more light on to the dire situation of Rohingya and we support that. It’s incredibly heartwarming,” she said.

AINZ asked people to thank Pope Francis through tweets, Facebook messages, SnapChat or other social media channels.

 

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