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26 Rohingya Refugees Found Hiding on Malaysian Islet

A photo taken July 26, 2020, by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, shows Rohingya refugees, who were thought to have drowned, sitting on a beach on Rebak Island, off the resort island of Langkawi, Malaysia.

Malaysian authorities say 26 Rohingya refugees who were thought to have drowned after jumping off a fishing boat and trying to swim ashore on the island of Langkawi have been found alive.

Officials said Monday that the Rohingya were found hiding on a nearby islet.

The search began when one of the refugees was found Saturday on the islet off Langkawi and told the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency that a minimum of 24 others were missing.

Senior agency official Zawawi Abdullah says 12 men, 10 women, and four children in total were found.

Officials say they believe local fishermen took the refugees out to sea and deposited them off Langkawi in the hopes that they come ashore undetected.

The Rohingya have been detained for further investigation and will be handed to the immigration department, according to Zawawi. Officials also say two other migrants were arrested for suspected trafficking.

Malaysia does not recognize refugee status, although the mostly Muslim country is a popular destination for Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar.

A military crackdown in Buddhist-majority Myanmar in 2017 caused hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee. Most are now living in overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin reported in June that Malaysia could not take in any more Rohingya immigrants, saying that the economy had been too badly hurt by the coronavirus pandemic. He added that those already residing within Malaysia will not be sent out.

Malaysia is home to more than 2 million illegal immigrants, in addition to around 180,000 refugees and asylum seekers, according to the Associated Press. Around 101,000 of these are Rohingya.