A “food flotilla” will depart from Malaysia for the restive Rakhine state in Myanmar in January.
The flotilla is expected to deliver almost 200 tonnes of rice, medical aid and other essential supplies to the state that fronts the Bay of Bengal and which Myanmar troops have had control of since Oct 9, when armed men raided police posts, killing nine officers.
Violence in the past few weeks against the Rohingya Muslims has resulted in at least 86 people being killed; more than 34,000 Rohingyas have since fled to Bangladesh, taking with them allegations of mass killings, rape and torture at the hands of Myanmar security forces.
The Myanmar government has vigorously denied the accusations. Malaysia, which hosts some 55,000 Rohingyas displaced by previous unrest, has called the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar a regional concern and urged ASEAN to coordinate humanitarian aid and investigate alleged atrocities committed against them.
The Malaysian flotilla is expected to leave Port Klang on Jan 10 and is expected to return about two weeks later. The flotilla is organised by the Malaysian Consultative Council of Islam Organisations (Mapim), Kelab Putra 1Malaysia and a coalition of NGOs from the region.
Mapim secretary-general Zulhanis Zainol told The Star Online that there are three scenarios the flotilla could face – allowed in to hand over the aid, told to turn back in Myanmar waters or even attacked by the Myanmar security forces.
He said that the main aim of the flotilla was to support the Rohingya communities in the towns of Maungdaw and Buthidaung. “Access to the affected areas is completely blocked. This resembles Gaza as victims are squeezed between military attacks and closure of the border to a neighbouring country.
“As a result, all access is completely blocked and humanitarian agencies are not allowed to enter,” said Mr Zulhanis. He estimated there would be 200 participants for the flotilla, including NGO members, media practitioners, a medical team, former ministers, politicians, religious leaders, volunteers and the crew.
“We also want to bring a message of peace with the flotilla. It is not only a religious issue but a humanitarian one,” said Mr Zulhanis. Foreign ministers from the Asean countries met for a retreat on Dec 19 in Yangon to discuss the Rohingya issue, which is a contentious issue in the region.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman reportedly said that unimpeded humanitarian access to the affected areas should be granted urgently, Human rights groups have accused the military and border guard forces of raping Rohingya women, torching houses and killing civilians, although this has been denied by the Myanmar government and military.
Considered to be stateless and often subjected to arbitrary violence and forced labour in Myanmar, the Rohingya are considered by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. As of October this year, there are 54,586 Rohingya refugees registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia, although unofficial estimates put the number at three times that.