Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Myanmar from Monday, November 27, to Thursday, November 30. The Pope will arrive in Yangon on Monday, and travel to Naypyitaw to meet with President Aung San Suu Kyi and senior military officials at the Presidential Palace on Tuesday, November 28. The Pope will return to Yangon on Wednesday, to meet with Buddhist leaders at the Kaba Aye Pagoda and hold religious ceremonies at St. Mary’s Cathedral. An additional religious ceremony will be held at St. Mary’s Cathedral on Thursday.
A visibly increased security presence and associated transportation disruptions (large crowds and congestion surround events related to the papal visit, temporary closures, etc.) should be expected. A large influx of visitors will likely arrive in Yangon and Naypyitaw during the Pope's trip, which could also cause delays and congestion at local airports and other transportation hubs. Additionally, there are concerns that statements from the Pope regarding the ongoing Rohingya refugee crisis and violence in Rakhine state may trigger protests.
Pope Francis’ visit will be the first Papal visit to the Buddhist-majority Myanmar. An estimated 650,000 Catholics live in Myanmar. In past statements, the Pope has called for the end of violence in Rakhine state, calling the Rohingya minority his persecuted “brothers and sisters.” The Rohingya minority are not recognized as citizens in Myanmar, and mentioning the group by name may trigger public outrage.
Over 620,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh from Myanmar's Rakhine state amid an army crackdown on the Rohingya community that began following an attack on Burmese security forces in August. The UN has established a fact-finding mission to investigate crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the military during their counteroffensive. The persecution of the Rohingya people in Myanmar has drawn international criticism for alleged human rights violations; the UN has called the military operations a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Individuals in Myanmar should anticipate localized transportation disruptions during the Pope's visit as well as an increased security presence. As a precaution, individuals should avoid all demonstrations due to the risk of violence.