A boatload of Rohingya refugees found in a Malaysian waters this week will be deported back to Bangladesh, a top official has said.
Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, senior minister for Security and minister of Defense, told a media briefing on June 9 that refugees “should not assume they will be accepted here if they run here.”
Malaysian authorities detained about 270 Rohingya refugees from the boat who fled southern Bangladesh in April but were unable to dock due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Ismail Sabri said Malaysia’s Foreign Affairs office will hold talks with its counterpart in Bangladesh for the refugees to be sent back to Cox’s Bazar or to the island of Bhasan Char.
He said that the country also plans to hold talks with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to explore possibilities of sending the refugees to countries that are signatories to the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
“Some of these countries questioned how we managed the matter, saying that we are not being humane,” said Ismail Sabri, adding that Malaysia was not a signatory to the convention.
The official accused the refugees of “drilling holes into the vessel and damaged the engine before entering our waters” to force the country to take them in.
The Malaysian coast guard spotted the vessel carrying the refugees off Langkawi Island and was set to push the boat back to international waters when 53 refugees jumped into the water, reported the BBC.
“We had to save them as we could not just leave them to drown in front of our eyes,” said Ismail Sabri.
The refugees were provided with food and water and were brought to Langkawi Island where they have been detained.
The official also announced that the Malaysian Armed Forces Field Hospital in Cox’s Bazar has been closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
All of its 56 army personnel and doctors were sent home.
Smugglers have been illegally bringing in thousands of Rohingya refugees into Malaysia for the past years.
The country, however, has closed its borders to refugees using the COVID-19 pandemic as grounds.
The Rohingya people are one of the most persecuted ethnic minorities in Myanmar.
In August 2017, thousands of Rohingya people fled to Bangladesh after Myanmar security forces launched a deadly crackdown following attacks my Rohingya militants.