Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service
Bangladesh authorities Tuesday welcomed a Malaysian ship bringing humanitarian aid for thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees as it offloaded food, medicine and other supplies at the port of Chittagong.
Authorities allowed 25 volunteers to leave the ship Nautica Aliya so they could distribute the aid to the refugees from Myanmar in Cox’s Bazar, a district in southeastern Bangladesh. The district’s administration hired 150 trucks to transport the aid to refugee camps scattered across Cox’s Bazar, a drive of several hours from Chittagong.
“We have the relief materials. These will be distributed among the Rohingya refugees in Teknaf and Ukhia,” Ali Hossain, the deputy commissioner of Cox’s Bazar, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
Teknaf and Ukhia are sub-districts in Cox’s Bazar that house several camps housing registered and unregistered Rohingya refugees.
“We have information that the ship carried 1,472 tons of relief materials, which will be distributed to more than 15,000 Rohingyas,” a high-ranking Bangladesh Navy official told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
Khurshed Alam, Bangladesh’s foreign secretary for maritime affairs, told BenarNews the ship arrived in Chittagong port around 11:30 a.m., and a handover ceremony took place about two hours later.
Abdul Aziz Mohd Abdul Rahim, a representative of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and a member of parliament who traveled with the ship, called for a “long-standing solution” to the Rohingya crisis as he handed over the cargo, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
At least 66,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since early October, amid reports that Myanmar security forces have targeted people from the minority community in killings, rapes and other abuses – allegations that the Myanmar government has denied.
“Thirty million Malaysians are with you (Rohingya),” Rahim said.
“The IOM (International Organization for Migration) is in charge of the relief materials while the Red Crescent Society has been helping the distribution of the materials,” Alam said, adding district administrators would facilitate the distribution.
He said 25 volunteers were issued visas to distribute the materials to the Rohingya, pointing out that not all of the 183 volunteers were interested in undertaking a trip of six to seven hours to reach the camps. Thirty-four volunteers were scheduled to fly out of Bangladesh Tuesday night while the others were to leave with the ship.
The volunteers include doctors from Malaysia, Turkey, Indonesia, China, the United States, France, Thailand and the Palestinian territories.
‘Awaken international community’
“We hope our humanitarian efforts will pave the way to resolve the Rohingya issue and awaken the international community,” Malaysian volunteer Azmi, who uses one name, told AFP.
Bangladesh is home to an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Rohingya, including the tens of thousands who crossed the border in the past few months, following the killings of nine Myanmar border guards in October. A Rohingya man, one of 14 people charged in the attacks on the border guards, was sentenced to death on Friday in Myanmar.
The Nautica Aliya entered Bangladeshi waters after sailing from a port serving Yangon, Myanmar, where it delivered 500 tons of relief supplies including rice, instant noodles, potable water and hygiene kits destined from Rohingya in Rakhine. In Myanmar, 30 people were allowed to disembark at Yangon port for a handover ceremony on Thursday.
“This is positive development that a foreign country sent relief materials for the Rohingya,” Asif Muneir, an independent consultant on migration and refugee issues, told BenarNews. “But this is the responsibility of the government and the IOM to ensure that the relief materials reach the needy and the right people.”