Malaysian authorities have launched a search for 24 Rohingya refugees who went missing while trying to swim to shore from a boat off the resort island of Langkawi.
Muslim-majority Malaysia has long been a favoured destination for Rohingya Muslims seeking a better life after escaping the 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar and, more recently, refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Malaysia’s coastguard said 25 people had tried to swim ashore late on Saturday when their boat was near the island’s west coast but only one reached land.
Two boats and one aircraft were sent out on Sunday to search an area of more than 100 sq nautical miles, according to Mohd Zawawi Abdullah, the provincial director for the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).
“We have relayed information to other rescue agencies and local fishing communities and will also inform the Thai authorities … to assist in the search,” Zawawi said in a statement.
Police detained the person who reached shore for questioning. They did not say what happened to the boat.
Last month, 269 Rohingya were detained on arrival in Langkawi. At the time, the head of the MMEA said they were transferred from a larger “motherboat” on which dozens of people were believed to have died and been thrown into the sea during a four-month voyage.
Malaysia does not recognise refugee status. The prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, said last month the country could not accept any more Rohingya refugees, citing a struggling economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic.