PETALING JAYA: A “food flotilla” will depart from Malaysia for the Rakhine state in Myanmar next month.
The flotilla is expected to deliver almost 1,000 tonnes of rice, medical aid and other essential supplies to the state that fronts the Bay of Bengal.
The 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 said there were 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 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,” Zulhanis told The Star.
He said they had applied for a permit to enter Myanmar waters through the embassy here, but have yet to receive a reply.
“We are still waiting for their approval,” he said.
They have collected 600 tonnes of supplies so far from the public.
Zulhanis estimated 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,” he said, adding that they were also inviting leaders of different faiths to the flotilla that is likely to consist of two vessels.
Foreign ministers from Asean countries met for a retreat on Dec 19 in Yangon to discuss the Rohingya issue, which is a contentious issue in the region.
Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman reportedly said that unimpeded humanitarian access to the affected areas should be granted urgently,
Violence in the past few weeks against the Rohingya has resulted in at least 86 people being killed and with more than 30,000 displaced.
Myanmar troops poured into the western state of Rakhine in response to coordinated attacks on three border posts on Oct 9 that killed nine police officers.
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.
For more information about the flotilla, log on to www.mapim.org/foodflotilla.