When a ship crammed with 2,200 tons of rice, emergency supplies and aid-workers tried to dock at Yangon port on 10 February, it arrived to protests by hard-line Buddhists. The aid was from Malaysia, and part of it was meant to deliver relief to the Rohingya Muslims experiencing a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Maungdaw states. The ship successfully docked in Bangladesh on 13 February.
Initially the boat was banned from entering Burmese waters, but was later allowed through by Port Authorities, though expressly forbidden to enter a river north to Sittwe, capital of the Rakhine region. It was permitted to dock just outside Yangon, where it began to unload 500 tons of produce. The rest was destined for southern Bangladesh where up to 70,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled since the military crackdown in October and are living in atrocious conditions in official and unofficial refugee camps.
They are displaced citizens, seen as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in Myanmar, and illegal immigrants from Myanmar in Bangladesh. The government has reportedly returned thousands of Rohingya to Myanmar according to Amnesty International; the organization says it is a violation of international law, which states you cannot forcibly return people to a country where they are at risk of human rights violations.
A group in Muslim-majority Malaysia, frustrated by reports of inaction and persecution in Rakhine, put an aid ship together to support the refugees. Unusually for Southeast Asian stability, Malaysia has been openly critical of Myanmar’s actions.
When the boat arrived, a group of Buddhists, including monks, held up signs saying “No Rohingya,” One of the most vocal groups present was a faction of Buddhist monks belonging to the Patriotic Myanmar Monks Union, a nationalist group.