Myanmar Times, April 6, 2020
The Malaysian coast guard said it intercepted a boat carrying 202 people believed to be ethnic Muslim refugees from Rakhine State early Sunday morning.
The group, comprising 152 men, 45 women and five children, were handed over to immigration authorities for processing as they entered the country illegally, Captain Zulinda Ramly, deputy director of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, said in a statement.
The boat was found adrift off the shore of the resort island of Langkawi, according to the statement, adding that the authorities are looking for the skipper and two crew suspected to be from a human smuggling syndicate.
According to the Rakhine Muslims, the men fled while they the boat was still at sea.
Facing persecution in their homeland in Myanmar’s western Rakhine, hundreds of thousands of Rakhine Muslims have sought refuge in neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia.
The government of traditionally Buddhist Myanmar considers them to be immigrants from Bangladesh and does not recognise them as citizens, despite their generations-long presence in the country.
Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, has long taken up the cause of the Rakhine Muslims.
However, Malaysia itself has drawn criticism for its treatment of Rakhine Muslims in the country, such as not allowing them to work legally.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as of the end of February, there were 101,010 registered Rakhine Muslim refugees and asylum seekers living in Malaysia.