Kuala Lumpur, Jul 27 (efe-epa).- Malaysia has detained 27 Rohingya refugees who arrived in the country over the weekend and who were initially thought to have died when their boat capsized, officials said on Monday.
On Saturday night, one refugee was detained after swimming ashore from a small vessel off the Langkawi coast.
The rest of the passengers were first presumed to have drowned, but on Sunday afternoon 26 people were found hidden in a nearby forest, according to a statement by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) on Monday.
The 27 refugees, which included women and children, were given tests for Covid-19, after which they handed over to immigration officials.
The MMEA said that the refugees, which it considers “illegal immigrants”, made it to shore by swimming from a small fishing boat that had brought them from a larger vessel with hundreds of people on board from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The Rohingya are a mostly Muslim ethnic minority that are denied statehood by Myanmar, which claims they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Millions have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in recent years into sprawling refugee camps on the Bangladeshi border.
At the start of June, Malaysian authorities intercepted a boat carrying 268 Rohingyas, who were later detained, after having pushed another ship out to sea in April for trying to enter the country.
Malaysia, a relatively prosperous and majority Muslim nation, has for years been a favored destination for the Rohingya, who don’t face the sort of persecution they would in their homeland.
Many are able to find work in Malaysia’s booming construction industry, although their status is extremely precarious as the vast majority are not officially recognised as refugees.
In recent months, reports of xenophobia towards the Rohingyas have increased, while the police have launched several raids targeting undocumented migrants in areas affected by the coronavirus pandemic. International human rights groups have condemned the raids.