A Malaysian ship carrying supplies for ethnic Rohingya affected by recent violence in Myanmar set sail Friday for Yangon and Teknaf, Bangladesh.
The Nautical Aliya, carrying 2,200 tons of food and medical supplies, set sail at 4 p.m. following a ceremony in Port Klang, about 44 km (30 miles) from Kuala Lumpur.
Prime Minister Najib Razak and opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man flagged the ship as it left the port. Najib hailed the mission as a symbol of “unity among the Ummah” or Muslims.
The ship is scheduled to arrive in Yangon Port on Tuesday and then travel to Bangladesh. It carries food supplies valued at 3.3 million ringgit ($745,000), daily need supplies valued at 1.6 million ringgit ($361,000) and clothing items valued at 500,000 ringgit ($113,000).
Nautical Aliya is also carrying 230 volunteers, including doctors, from several local and international NGOs – from Turkey, Indonesia, China, the United States, France, Thailand and the Palestinian territories.
Bangladesh changes course
Plans for the second leg of the journey appeared dashed when Foreign Minister Anifah Aman announced Friday that Bangladesh would not allow the ship to dock in Teknaf. Hours later, the foreign ministry announced that Dhaka would welcome the ship, scheduled to arrive on Feb. 10.
“The matter has now been resolved as a result of the good relations between Malaysia and Bangladesh. The Government of Malaysia expresses its appreciation to the Government of Bangladesh for its willingness to allow the food flotilla to provide humanitarian aid to the Rohingya refugees around Teknaf port,” the foreign ministry said in a news release.
Initially scheduled to sail on Jan. 10, the ship’s journey was postponed for diplomatic clearance after Myanmar President’s office spokesman Zaw Htay warned it could be stopped or attacked by security forces.
Malaysia’s application to deliver aid to the Sittwe region and surrounding areas where many Rohingya have settled was rejected by the Myanmar government. Clearance was given to Yangon Port only.
‘Spirit of humanity’
Following the port ceremony, Najib condemned violence against ethnic Rohingya, who are deprived of basic rights in Myanmar and have been subjected to a military crackdown in western Rakhine state following the killing of nine police by militants in October.
“On the spirit of humanity and fraternity among Muslims, Malaysia is not willing to see ethnic Rohingya brothers with the same faith continue to be mistreated, killed, burned and raped,” he said.
“It would not strain our ties with Myanmar. It is an assistance and contribution, it is our hope. We are doing it as a concerned government, on the basis of humanitarian spirit and principles,” he said of the aid shipment.
Malaysia, Najib said, had done its utmost for ethnic Rohingya by organizing a solidarity rally, pushing the regional bloc Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to discuss the crisis, and hosting an extraordinary meeting of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) foreign ministers.
Since the Myanmar military launched a crackdown in Rakhine state following the Oct. 9 killing of nine Burmese border guards by suspected insurgents, security personnel have been accused of carrying out killings, rapes, acts of arson and arbitrary arrests targeting Rohingya. The government in Naypyidaw has denied those allegations.
Nearly 90 people have been killed in the violence in Rakhine, and as many as 66,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, according to U.N. figures. The new refugees join at least 300,000 Rohingya who already had taken refuge in southeastern Cox’s Bazar district.
Bangladesh has refused to grant the Rohingya refugee status because it considers them citizens of Myanmar. Myanmar, meanwhile, considers those who return to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and has denied them citizenship and access to basic services for decades.
Another 90,000 Rohingya refugees are in Malaysia. Of those, 56,000 have received refugee status cards from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Kuala Lumpur.
Reported by Hata Wahari from Port Klaing, Malaysia, for BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.