Malaysia detains boatload of 202 presumed Rohingya refugees

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (AP) — Malaysian authorities said they have arrested a boatload of 202 people believed to be Rohingya refugees after their boat was found adrift on Sunday morning near the northern resort island of Langkawi.

A Northern District maritime official, Captain Zulinda Ramly, said the refugees included 152 men, 45 women and five children. She said some of the migrants told officials that the boat’s skipper and two others, believed to be behind the smuggling syndicate, had escaped while they were at sea.

Zulinda said maritime officials have taken precautionary measures to prevent any possible transmission of the COVID-19 virus while handling the group. The refugees were taken to the maritime office for further investigation before they were handed to the immigration department, she added. There were no further details on where the refugees came from. In February, 16 Rohingya refugees from a Bangladeshi migrant camp drowned after the overcrowded boat that was supposed to take them to Malaysia capsized in the Bay of Bengal.

With more than a million refugees tightly packed in the camp, aid workers are also concerned about a possible outbreak of the coronavirus, although there are no confirmed cases yet.

A wooden boat carrying suspected Rohingya migrants detained in Malaysian territorial waters off the island of Langkawi, Malaysia. PHOTO: AP