KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia said on Tuesday it will send back hundreds of Rohingya who arrived by boat this week after months at sea, as fears mounted that the refugees could be carrying a new wave of coronavirus.
The country is a favoured destination for the persecuted Muslim minority from mostly Buddhist Myanmar, with thousands risking their lives on perilous sea crossings every year. They usually travel from Myanmar or Bangladesh, where about one million live in squalid refugee camps after fleeing a 2017 military crackdown in their homeland.
But Malaysian authorities have stepped up maritime patrols in recent months in a bid to prevent them from landing over fears they could be carrying the coronavirus. On Monday, however, coastguards allowed 269 Rohingya to come ashore after discovering them on a vessel that was too rickety to be pushed back to sea.
Rights groups say the migrants set off from Bangladesh in early April and had been turned away by several Southeast Asian countries. Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob insisted Malaysia would not allow them to stay, and issued a warning to others thinking of making the journey.