Malaysian authorities have detained 269 Rohingya refugees seeking entry on a damaged boat off the island of Langkawi. The body of a female migrant was also retrieved. A coastguard vessel first spotted the suspected migrant boat off the island, preparing to push it out to international waters, but 53 Rohingya jumped into sea as the coastguards approached.
The boat was said to have set off from Southern Bangladesh in April, with an estimated 500 passengers initially onboard when it left. A 16 year old boy made a statement to Save the Children recalling “We were starving for days … We had no water to drink. Some people drank water from the sea. They got sick later.” Several children witnessed people dying on the boat and being thrown into the sea, including their own parents and family members.
Malaysia’s National patrol stated the boat had been “deliberately damaged … making it unfit to be turned back”. The 297 refugees are being temporarily held in Kem Bina Negara Wawasan Langkawi. Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has stated a total of 296 “illegal immigrants” and 108 boat skippers have been detained since 1 May to 8 June for attempting to enter the country illegally.
Following tightening border controls in response to the coronavirus, Malaysia have stated they will no longer accept Rohingya Refugees. Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob stated “The Rohingya should know, if they come here, they cannot stay.”
On 9 June, Malaysia requested Bangladesh to take back the 269 detained Rohingya Refugees and place them on the Bhasan Char island, which Bangladesh has now rejected. Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen stated Bangladesh was “neither obligated nor in a position to take any more Rohingya”, urging the global community to help relocate the more than one million Rohingya who fled there from Myanmar following the 2017 military crackdown. Malaysia further planned to ask UNHCR to re-settle Rohingya migrants in a third country. UNHCR have stated there are a limited number of resettlement places around the world, making resettlement an unlikely option for most refugees.