Malaysia has detained three Rohingya boats in recent weeks in addition to the one it brought ashore on June 08, a Thai marine police commander said on Wednesday.
According to police Lt. Col. Banjerd Manawesh, an official in Satun, the southernmost province on Thailand’s west coast, as many as six Rohingya boats were in Malaysian waters near Thailand “until last week.”
He said his information came from local fishermen and news reports.
“Three weeks ago, until last week, there were six boats in Malaysian territory, heading south, about 12 miles from Lipe Island,” Banjerd said, referring to a Thai island in the Strait of Malacca just north of Malaysia.
“We believe they were destined to Malaysia but Malaysia blocked them,” he told Benar News, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
Two of the boats headed for Indonesia, one was brought ashore by Malaysian boats and “three other boats were detained,” he said.
A senior Malaysian security official denied this, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media on the matter.
“No such thing. The last boat that docked here was the one in Langkawi recently,” the official said when asked about the three boats.
On June 06, Malaysian authorities towed a disabled boat ashore and detained 269 Rohingya after dozens jumped overboard and began swimming to Langkawi, an island off the northwest coast of peninsular Malaysia. The landing marked the first time that Rohingya had been allowed to disembark in Malaysia for more than two months.
Many countries in the region have closed their borders to foreigners in recent months due to fears of the spread of COVID-19.
Rights groups have raised alarms about the impact of such policies on boatloads of Rohingya refugees and other migrants who typically travel to hubs for migrant workers at this time of year.
In April, hundreds of Rohingya men, women and children were said to be starving when brought ashore in Bangladesh following a nearly two-month failed journey to Malaysia during which dozens died, officials and survivors said.
In Bangkok, human rights advocacy group Fortify Rights called on Asian countries to allow Rohingya boats to land, one of many rights groups to do so in recent weeks.
“Countries in the region should urgently allow Rohingya refugees and trafficking survivors to disembark. Rohingya people are genocide survivors and need protection, not to be left to die at sea,” PutthaneeKangkun, a researcher with the group, told BenarNews last week.
“We know there are more boats at sea,” she added.
Malaysia has acknowledged preventing more than two dozen boats from landing in its territory since May 01, although authorities did not specify what kind of boats they were.
The Rohingya are a stateless and persecuted minority in Myanmar, where waves of violence against them have sent more than one million of them fleeing into southeastern Bangladesh where they are confined in sprawling refugee camps. (Source: RFA)