Kuala Lumpur (dpa) – Malaysia on Thursday intercepted two vessels in its northern waters carrying hundreds of undocumented migrants as it moved to boost sea patrols in an effort to contain a surge in arrivals from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
“Vessels carrying illegal migrants will not be allowed to enter Malaysian waters,” the director general of Malaysia’s Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), Amdan Kurish, said.
Amdan said there were persistent reports that more vessels carrying Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were heading for Malaysia.
Many Rohingya Muslims, a stateless minority in predominately Buddhist Myanmar, travel to Malaysia and Indonesia via Thailand by boats and cars run by smugglers, who often then hold them in captivity until a ransom is paid by their family back home.
There are already more than 151,000 refugees in Malaysia, 94 per cent of whom are from Myanmar, according to the government.
The decision to intensify sea patrols comes after more than 1,000 Rohingyas and Bangladeshis landed in the northern island of Langkawi earlier in the week.
Mohamed Thajudeen Abdul Wahab, secretary of the country’s National Security Council, said Thursday that the MMEA had been instructed to step up monitoring and control in the country’s northern waters.
“After several boats carrying illegal immigrants slipped through, we are prepared to prevent the entry of more vessels,” he told the state-run Bernama news agency.
Mohamed Thajudeen confirmed that two boats carrying up to 1,000 migrants were detected off the northern island of Penang on Wednesday.
He said one of the boats was directed to return to its port of origin while the other, which suffered engine trouble, was being repaired before it would be asked to leave.
Zafar Ahmad, president of the Myanmar Rohingyas Human Rights Organization in Malaysia, said he had hoped Malaysian authorties would be more considerate in dealing with the boat people.
“My countrymen are being persecuted in our homeland, we need help,” he told dpa by telephone.
Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry was set to make a statement about the migrant arrivals after talks with “relevant countries, including Myanmar Indonesia and Thailand,” according to Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.