24 Rohingya refugees feared drowned off Malaysia’s Langkawi island


Malaysian maritime authorities are searching for 24 Rohingya refugees who were feared to have drowned while trying to swim to shore from a boat off the resort island of Langkawi.

Malaysia’s coastguard said initial police information showed that only one of 25 Rohingya men who jumped off the boat had managed to swim ashore on Saturday.

Two boats and one aircraft were sent out on Sunday to scour an area of more than 100 square nautical miles, according to Mohd Zawawi Abdullah, provincial director for the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

“We have relayed information to other rescue agencies and local fishing communities and will also inform the Thai authorities … to assist in the search,” Zawawi said in a statement.

Police detained the person who reached shore for questioning. They did not say what happened to the boat.

Malaysia has long been a favoured destination for Rohingya Muslims seeking a better life after escaping a 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar and, more recently, refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Last month, 269 Rohingya were detained on arrival in Langkawi.

At the time, the head of the MMEA said the 269 were transferred from a larger “motherboat” on which dozens of people were believed to have died and were thrown into the sea over a four-month voyage.

Malaysia does not recognise refugee status. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said last month the country could not take in any more Rohingya, citing a struggling economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic. (Source: CNA)