A Malaysian aid ship arrived in Bangladesh on Monday carrying aid for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled from Burma, many citing abuses by the Burmese security forces.
Nearly 70,000 Rohingya have fled from Buddhist-majority Burma’s Arakan State to Bangladesh to escape a crackdown launched after nine policemen were killed in attacks on border posts on 9 October that Burma blamed on Rohingya militants.
The UN human rights office said in a report this month Burma’s security forces had committed mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya Muslims and burned their villages.
Burma has denied almost all allegations of human rights abuses, and says a lawful counterinsurgency campaign has been under way since the October attacks on the security posts.
The violence has dismayed and outraged some of Burma’s neighbours, with mostly Muslim Malaysia being particularly vociferous in its criticism.
It has supported Muslim groups and aid organisations to arrange a shipment of more than 2,000 tonnes of aid for Rohingyas.
The ship’s first stop was in the Burmese commercial capital Rangoon, last week, where it unloaded 500 tonnes of supplies.
A representative of the mission on the ship said it would unload about 2,000 tonnes of food and emergency supplies in Bangladesh, though staff were not being allowed access.
“We are not allowed to get off the ship or to visit the camps,” said the aid representative, who declined to be identified.
The 70,000 new arrivals joined more than 200,000 Rohingya already in Bangladesh, many living in camps, who fled earlier crackdowns in Burma.
A Bangladesh government official said the ship was on its way to the Chittagong port after anchoring off the coastal town of Teknaf, near the Burmese border, and arrangements were being made to unload its cargo.
But Ali Hossain, chief administrator of the coastal district of Cox’s Bazar, which borders Burma, told Reuters he had not received clearance to let anyone off the ship.
A port official in Chittagong said a ceremony would be held on Tuesday with a senior foreign ministry official and Malaysia’s ambassador in attendance to receive the shipment.
UN officials working with refugees in Bangladesh have told Reuters the death toll in the Burmese security sweep could be more than 1,000.
Rohingya have faced discrimination in Burma for generations. They are not classified as a distinct group under Burma’s citizenship laws and are regarded instead as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, entitled only to limited rights.
About 1.1 million Rohingya live in apartheid-like conditions in northwestern Burma.
Bangladesh says the Rohingya have been living in Burma for generations and are not Bangladeshis, and it faces a huge burden looking after the refugees.