KUALA LUMPUR/DHAKA (Reuters) – Malaysia will ask Bangladesh to take back about 300 Rohingya Muslim refugees detained after a boat carrying them entered its waters this week, Malaysia’s defence minister said on Tuesday.
Muslim-majority Malaysia has been a favoured destination for ethnic Rohingya fleeing a 2017 military-led crackdown in Myanmar and more recently, squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh, in search of better prospects.
However, Malaysia has said it will no longer accept Rohingya refugees after tightening border controls to rein in the coronavirus.
“The Rohingya should know, if they come here, they cannot stay,” the minister, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, told reporters.
Malaysia’s foreign ministry will ask Dhaka to take back the detained migrants if they were found to have fled the camps, he added.
On Monday, authorities arrested 269 Rohingya and retrieved the body of a woman from a damaged boat near the Malaysian island of Langkawi.
Malaysia may ask for the migrants to be placed on the Bangladeshi island of Bhasan Char, and planned to ask United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, to re-settle Rohingya migrants in a third country, Ismail Sabri said.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen said his country is “neither obligated nor in a position to take any more Rohingya”, and urged the global community to help relocate the 1.1 million Rohingya seeking refuge there.
The UNHCR said the number of resettlement places around the world were limited and may not be an option for most refugees.
“For refugees to be able to live a life in safety and with dignity until such time that they are able to return home again, or find home in another country, what they need is to have protection in the country where they are seeking asylum,” the agency said in an emailed response to Reuters.
The boat in Monday’s incident is believed to have left Bangladesh in February with between 700 and 800 aboard, two human rights groups have told Reuters, but the fate of the other passengers was not immediately clear.
Reporting by Rozanna Latiff, A. Ananthalakshmi and Joseph Sipalan in Kuala Lumpur and Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Lincoln Feast.