More than two dozen Rohingya refugees have been found alive on an island in northern Malaysia, the coast guard said on Monday, putting an end to earlier reports that they may have drowned trying to swim ashore since. a boat that brought them to the waters of the region.
Twenty-six Rohingya were discovered hiding in bushes in Rebak Besar on Sunday evening after residents spotted a Rohingya on the islet earlier today, the Malaysian Maritime Police Agency said in a statement. The man spoke to agents from the other 26 Rohingya, officials said.
“[The man] was brought to the MMEA office in Bukit Malut for further investigation and, based on the additional information recovered, he informed authorities that there were 26 more still hidden on the island, âFirst Admiral Mohd Zawawi Abdullah, the local coast guard commander, said in a statement.
An investigation found that some local fishermen were working with a human smugglers union as ‘carriers’ using their boats to help bring migrants to the neighboring island of Langkawi from a larger boat, a- he declared.
âWe are very frustrated with some of the locals who were willing to do anything for money without caring about the security and sovereignty of the country,â Zawawi said.
“Our investigations revealed that the union smuggled the migrants by unloading them from the mother ship anchored near the country’s border onto local fishing boats to confuse the authorities,” he added.
The MMEA statement did not say whether the Coast Guard had located the approximate location of the so-called mother ship or whether they were looking for the ship.
Coastguard and Royal Malaysian Navy ships were sent to Rebak Besar to pick up the Rohingya and bring them to Bukit Malut on Langkawi. There, the migrants underwent COVID-19 testing before being handed over to the Immigration Department, officials said.
Meanwhile, in a statement released on Monday, a task force overseeing the country’s borders warned that nationals who help smuggle undocumented migrants could be prosecuted for treason.
The MMEA launched a search and rescue operation on Sunday for around 20 Rohingyas who feared drowning after authorities found the first Rohingya, according to a report from Agence France-Presse.
The discovery came less than a week after authorities found 25 other Rohingya in a safe house in Langkawi where smugglers allegedly hid them, officials said at the time.
Two Rohingya were arrested on July 21 on suspicion of trafficking 25 refugees who had left Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, a Malaysian security source told BenarNews.
An investigation was underway to determine whether there were links between the two Rohingya groups, authorities said on Monday.
Cox’s Bazar and a neighboring district are home to camps housing more than one million stateless Rohingya refugees who have fled persecution and violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country, is a main destination in Southeast Asia for Rohingya refugees seeking work or asylum opportunities.
Reacting on Monday to news that the last group of Rohingya refugees had not drowned as initially feared, Amnesty International called on Malaysia, neighboring Thailand and other governments in Southeast Asia to search for d ‘other Rohingya suspected of being at sea.
âThe situation of the Rohingya refugees still stranded at sea for months is desperate. ASEAN governments must immediately launch coordinated search and rescue missions for the remaining survivors; allow all boats carrying refugees and migrants to land safely in the nearest country; and meet their humanitarian needs, âRachel Chhoa-Howard, researcher at Amnesty’s Malaysian office, said in a statement.
âUnless that happens, more lives will inevitably be lost. “