Pope Francis has met Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi but avoided directly addressing the ongoing Rohingya crisis.
At the meeting in Yangon on Tuesday, the pontiff stressed the importance of Myanmar respecting the “identity” of all of its ethnic groups, without using the term “Rohingya”.
More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in fear of abuses by Myanmarese soldiers.
The ethnic group is subject to a raft of discriminatory measures by Myanmar’s government, such as being deprived of citizenship.
Having previously spoken against the “persecution of our Rohingya brothers and sisters,” the leader of the Roman Catholic Church had been advised by Myanmar’s archbishop not to use the word Rohingya.
Tun Khin, the president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), told Al Jazeera that the pope’s omission of the word “Rohingya” was “very sad”.
“The Burmese government is denying our existence, and our identity,” he said. “How can the pope raise the issue of the Rohingya crisis if he is not even using the name?”
Khin said that the pope should use his platform to pressure Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s military to “stop this genocide” and to allow humanitarian aid access to the Rohingya.
“He should have spoken out against this hate campaign targeting the Rohingya and other minorities in Burma,” Khin said.
Myanmar’s ruling party has objected to the use of the term Rohingya to identify the mostly Muslim minority, demanding that they are called “Bengalis” despite the persecuted group living there for generations.
The UN, as well as the US, have said the violent actions taken by Myanmar’s armed forces and “local vigilantes” amount to “ethnic cleansing” against its Rohingya minority.
The ongoing crisis is being described as the world’s biggest forced exodus this year.
The State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has faced international criticism with several insitutions withdrawing their honorary awards to her.
The latest was Oxford stripping her of “Freedom of Oxford” honor over her failure to speak out on abuses against Myanmar’s Rohingya.