PHOENIX — Muslims and Catholics from Myanmar living in the United States would like Pope Francis to reiterate the message of “compassion for humanity” when the pope visits their country.
Sheraz Islam, a Rohingya refugee, said the pope is a “holy man and a God-fearing person” and he has “great compassion” for Myanmar’s Rohingya people because of their plight. Regardless of what ethnicity they are, what religion they belong to, or whether they are men or women, “they are a part of humanity,” said Sheraz, who is convinced that is the reason why the pope calls the Rohingya his “brothers and sisters.”
Francis is scheduled to visit Myanmar Nov. 27-30 and Bangladesh Nov. 30-Dec.2.
Sheraz was born in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, home to the Rohingya Muslim people since the eighth century. However, Rohingya are not only denied citizenship, but also freedom of movement and education. Their jobs are also restricted. They have faced military crackdowns since the 1970s.
In the most recent attacks, Rohingya survivors recounted stories of sexual assaults, murder and arson of homes in villages in Rakhine state.
Sheraz resettled in the United States in 2012. He said the oppression against the Rohingya people by the Myanmar military was not as bad then.
His parents and relatives decided to flee to Bangladesh because of the recent military crackdown. During the four- to five-day journey from Myanmar to Bangladesh, “my father died along the way in early September. It was a difficult journey and he probably died of exhaustion,” Sheraz said.
The oppression Sheraz referred to was a response by the Myanmar military and Rakhine militants toward Rohingya militants who attacked security checkpoints in late August.
The crackdown — called “ethnic cleansing” by the U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights — forced more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees to flee into neighboring Bangladesh. The latest arrivals were added to the more than 300,000 Rohingya who had fled attacks in past years.