Updated at 4:16 p.m. ET on 2019-04-08
Malaysian authorities rounded up at least 41 undocumented Rohingya from Myanmar after they landed in northwestern Perlis state on Monday off a boat believed to be operated by human smugglers, police said.
The Rohingya, all males ranging from boys to young men, were found in different spots around Kuala Sungai Baru, on the western coast of Peninsular Malaysia, and authorities were looking for another six who were said to have arrived aboard the same boat, the chief of Perlis police said.
The group landed in the same vicinity where nearly three dozen Rohingya women and children were found on a beach after arriving by boat in early March.
On Monday, another 200 Rohingya were believed to be at sea in waters off neighboring Thailand, Malaysian police said, citing an eyewitness account from one of the new Rohingya arrivals.
“We were told that they landed at about 4 a.m. The first report was lodged at 7 a.m. and the police were dispatched to the scene,” Perlis police chief Noor Mushar Mohd said, noting that a local villager spotted the Rohingya as he prepared to go out to sea in the early-morning hours.
“We found 10 Rohingyas at the beach, 10 by the road side in Kampung Belati, 10 at a nearby school and several others close to the area.”
All of the Rohingya had no papers on them after they were dropped off in the area, and they were believed to be victims of human trafficking, he said.
“The ones we rescued were between 14 and 30 years old,” Noor Mushar said, adding that the 41 were transferred to the custody of the Immigration Department.
According to witness testimony given by Abd Hussin Nor Hussin, one of the Rohingya, he and his fellow passengers had each paid the traffickers 4,000 ringgit (U.S. $976) to transport them by sea to Malaysia, the police chief said.
By official police accounts, it remained unclear whether the men had departed by boat from Myanmar or southeastern Bangladesh, where some 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar were sheltering at camps after fleeing from violence in Rakhine, a neighboring state on the Myanmar side of the border.
“He told the police that they had to walk through the mud for about one hour to get to the beach. The distance between the boat and the beach is about one kilometer (0.62 miles),” Noor Mushar said, adding that the Rohingya were covered in mud by the time they reached the compound of a local village in Perlis.
“They also told the authorities that there are about 200 more undocumented people in the middle of the sea in Thai waters,” he added.
According to a source close to the investigation who requested anonymity, the Rohingya were first brought from Myanmar to Thai waters prior to their landing in Malaysia on Monday morning, when they were forced to jump off the boat.
“From what we have gathered, they were at the sea for eight days with limited access to food. They told us they were only given several bottles of mineral water, cakes and a bag of rice,” the source told BenarNews.
“Luckily all of them survived and they have been checked by the authorities for any injuries. There was nothing serious and they have been given food,” the source added.
The trafficking syndicate that brought these Rohingya males to Perlis might be the same one that dropped off at least 34 Rohingya in the same coastal area last month, according to the source.
“The modus operandi is similar,” the source said.
‘Nothing much that we can do’
Mohamad Sadek, a Rohingya who has been living in Malaysia for the past 11 years, said his people, a stateless and persecuted minority in Myanmar, had no choice but to flee the country and face the high probability of being duped by human smugglers in the process.
“There is nothing much that we can do. Many of them want to leave Myanmar and find a peaceful place to live. Many think of Malaysia as the best place as it is a Muslim country,” he told BenarNews.
“But because of that, they are open to abuse. Many traffickers are using it as a bait to lure them into Malaysia. The victims have no choice but to accept not knowing that they are being cheated,” said Sadek, who runs an NGO in Kuala Lumpur.
According to the latest data from U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, close to 89,000 Rohingya are currently registered with it as living in Malaysia.