Pope Francis has used his Sunday address to decry the suffering of refugees in Myanmar and called on places of worship to be used as places of shelter.
Speaking at the Vatican on Sunday, World Refugee Day, the supreme pontiff threw his weight behind an appeal by the bishops of Myanmar for help to overcome the humanitarian crisis.
Thousands of people are displaced inside Myanmar and unable to return home. Violence, including raids of villages, has become endemic since the army seized power in February, ousting the fledgling democratic government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
A nonviolent civil disobedience movement has sprung up to challenge the coup, which the junta has been attempting to repress with deadly force.
On Sunday, Francis called echoed Asian bishops’ call for the world to pay attention to their “devastating experience”, saying that many were “starving to death.”
He implored the authorities to allow humanitarian corridors to provide aid to the mass of displaced people, and to allow that “churches, pagodas, monasteries, mosques, temples as well as schools and hospitals be respected as neutral shelters.”
The Pope also offered prayers for all refugees worldwide to mark World Refugee Day.
More than 800,000 Rohingya Muslims were also forced to flee Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh in 2017 after a deadly crackdown by the military.
Their living conditions in camps have deteriorated even further over the past 12 months, with COVID-19 resulting in greater restrictions on their freedom of movement and access to facilities.
“Let’s open our heart to refugees,” the Pope said on Sunday. “Let make ours their sadness and their joys, let’s learn from their courageous resilience. All together, we will grow a more human community, one big family.”