Letter to Pope Francis from a former Rohingya Refugee


Date: November 27, 2017


Apostolic Palace
00120 Vatican City


Dear Pope Francis,


On behalf of Rohingya community, I am writing to you with my great humbleness in regards to your visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, and situations of the community.


You once said, “Life is a journey. When we stop, things don’t go right.” On your auspicious journey of friendship, love and peace, we would kindly like to request you not to stop using “Rohingya” in the journey, which will ultimately do damage to the cultural and ethnic identity of the community that the successive military regime and Aung San Suu Kyi’s government have been trying to erase for many decades.


We have heard that you are advised not to use the term “Rohingya” during your visit to our country of origin, and told that it can divide the communities apart particularly minority Christian community. However, it is the way the racial and religious persecution and suppression of freedom of speech or expression being denied in Myanmar.


You are well-aware of the situations of Rohingya community. We have been stripped of citizenship, denied basic human rights such as freedom of religion, nationality, movement, education, healthcare, livelihood, etc.., and now subjected to “the textbook example of ethnic cleansing” as the United Nations calls, and “the slow-burning genocide” according to experts on genocide.


Nowhere in the world has seen a large scale of campaign of genocide in the modern day than that of Rohingya. Over 620,000 Rohingya are expelled from their ancestral homes becoming refugees in the neighbouring Bangladesh since August 25, 2017; more than 300 villages are razed to the ground; hundreds of women are raped or gang-raped; several children are thrown into fire; and now the remaining Rohingya inside Myanmar are starving and subjected to forced “national verification” process completely erasing and ethnic-reclassification of once recognized ethnic group of Myanmar.


“The people living in northern Arakan (now Rakhine State) are our national brethren. They are called Rohingyas. They are on the same par in the status of nationality with Kachin, Karen, Mon, Rakhine and Shan… They are one ethnic people living within the Union of Burma,” are the words First democratically-elected Prime Minister U Nu relayed to the nation on Burmese Broadcasting Service in September, 1954.


Moreover, Brigadier Aung Gyi, Vice Chief of Staff of Burma Armed Forces too told the country in November 1951, “not to call the Rohingya ‘Khaw Taw’ nor ‘Bengali’, nor ‘Rakhine Muslims. Instead the Rohingya leaders said their self-referential ethnic name was the Arabic word Rohingya”


“Rohingya” is once recognized term to refer the ethnic Muslim minority living in Rakhine State, and Rohingya have contributed to the nation-building until they were slowly deprived of every single mean of community, especially following the implementation of 1982 Citizenship Law.


The denial of the right to self-identification is ‘the cultural genocide’ that the Rohingya community faces in addition to the total physical destruction through the campaign of genocide.


The political leaders of world are turning the blind eye towards the Rohingya – complicitly avoiding the term as the government and the military of Myanmar instructed and desired.


We have no alternatives rather than hoping and believing individuals like you, who dares to stand up against atrocities and defend the basic human rights.


You also said in August, 2015, “Let’s think of those brothers of ours of the Rohingya. They were chased from one country to another and chased out to the sea.”


Now you are visiting two countries – Myanmar and Bangladesh, which become the places of witness of heinous crimes inflicted on the persecuted minority.


I, as a former refugee who spent more than 17 years in Kutupalong Refugee Camp, Bangladesh after fleeing the 1991 ethnic cleansing campaign “Operation Clean Nation” in Rakhine State, Myanmar, would like to hear from you the basic identification of the community – “Rohingya” during your journey in Myanmar, and make a visit to the refugee camps in Bangladesh to personally witness the unspeakable terror perpetrated by the Myanmar Military.


We, Rohingya wish your journey brings love and peace, and adds voice against the suppression of voices.


Sincerely yours,


Mohammed Rafique
Representative of Republic of Ireland
The European Rohingya Council (ERC)
+353 860391625




THE EUROPEAN ROHINGYA COUNCIL [ERC] is an Amsterdam based European umbrella organisation in Europe. info@theerc.eu