Malaysia on Sunday detained 202 suspected Rohingya Muslims who arrived illegally by boat, a top official said, raising fears that people smugglers are back in action despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency deputy director Zulinda Ramly said a large fishing boat ferried the suspected Rohingya migrants to the northern resort island of Langkawi.
Malaysia is a favoured destination for the migrants from Myanmar as it is a Muslim majority nation with a sizeable Rohingya diaspora.
Some 740,000 Rohingya Muslims left Myanmar in August 2017 and arrived in Bangladesh to join another 300,000 already living in the refugee camps.
With few opportunities for jobs and education in Myanmar or refugee camps in Bangladesh, thousands have risked their lives travelling to Southeast Asian nations – mainly by boat – when the Bay of Bengal is calm before monsoon season sets in at the end of May.
Zulinda said the migrants were detained by maritime authorities for questioning and will be handed over to immigration officials.
“Authorities are investigating complaints by the migrants that three individuals – a boat captain and two crew members – were operatives of a human smuggling ring,” she said in a statement.
The three escaped to sea after bringing the boat into Malaysian waters.
An estimated 25,000 Rohingya left Bangladesh and Myanmar on boats in 2015 trying to get to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Hundreds drowned when overloaded boats sank.