Malaysia is reported to turn away migrants abandoned at sea from Myanmar and Bangladesh unless they are in imminent danger of sinking, a top coast guard official has said.
Malaysia becomes second Southeast nation to refuse entry of migrants, Aljazeera reports.
Malaysia’s announcement on Wednesday makes it the second Southeast Asian country after Indonesia to refuse to allow migrants boats.
Indonesia’s navy said a day earlier that it had turned away a fishing vessel packed with hundreds of migrants, and that it would not allow boats with Rohingya migrants in its waters.
“The policy has always been to escort them out of Malaysian waters after giving them the necessary provisions,” First Admiral Tan Kok Kwee of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency said on Wednesday on the resort island of Langkawi.
Southeast Asia is in the grips of a humanitarian crisis, with around 1,600 migrants landing on the shores of the two Muslim-majority countries that over the years have shown the most sympathy for the Rohingyas’ plight.
With thousands more believed to be in the busy Malacca Strait and nearby waters – some stranded for more than two months – activists believe many more boats will try to make land in coming days and weeks.
In the last three years, attacks on Rohingya have left 280 people dead and forced 140,000 others into crowded camps just outside Sittwe, the capital of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where they live under abysmal, apartheid-like conditions, with little or no opportunity for work.
That has sparked one of the biggest exoduses of boat people the region has seen since the Vietnam War, with an estimated 100,000 men, women and children boarding ships in search of better lives in other countries since June 2012, according to the UN refugee agency.
The first stop, up until recently, was Thailand, where migrants were held in jungle camps until their families could raise hefty ransoms so they could continue onward, usually to Malaysia. Recent crackdowns, however, have forced the smugglers to change tactics – instead holding people on small and large ships parked offshore until they collected around $2,000 per person.