Malaysia’s coast guard will not turn away Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Burma and is willing to provide temporary shelter for them, the maritime agency’s chief said on Friday.
Rohingya insurgents attacked several police posts and an army base in Burma on 25 August. The ensuing clashes and a military counteroffensive has killed at least 400 people and triggered the exodus of more than 160,000 people to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Malaysia, hundreds of miles to the south on the Andaman Sea, is likely to see more boat people from Burma in coming weeks and months because of the renewed violence, said Zulkifli Abu Bakar, the director general of Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency. Malaysia is already home to more than 100,000 Rohingya refugees.
“We are supposed to provide basic necessities for them to continue their journey and push them away. But at the end of the day, because of humanitarian reasons, we will not be able to do that,” Zulkifli told Reuters, adding that no fresh refugees had been seen yet.
Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation, will likely house the Rohingya refugees in immigration detention centres, where foreigners without documents are typically held, he said.
Malaysia, which has not signed the UN Refugee Convention, treats refugees as illegal migrants.
Thailand has also said it is preparing to receive people fleeing the fighting in Burma
There are about 59,000 Rohingya refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia although unofficial numbers are almost double that.
In 2015, mass graves were exhumed at jungle camps on the border between Thailand and Malaysia that were thought to be mainly Rohingya victims of human traffickers.