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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

24 Rohingya refugees feared dead off Malaysia's coast

Muslim-majority Malaysia is a favoured destination for Rohingya refugees [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 July, 2020

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Only one Rohingya refugee from a group of 25 made it ashore after an attempt to swim ashore from their boat.
A search is underway for the 24 Rohingya refugees who went missing from a boat off the coast of the Malaysian resort island of Langkawi.

Authorities say 25 people had attempted to swim ashore on Saturday when their boat neared the island, however only one made it.

A search operation covering an area of more than 100 sq nautical miles was launched on Sunday, according to Mohd Zawawi Abdullah, the provincial director for the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).

"We have relayed information to other rescue agencies and local fishing communities and will also inform the Thai authorities ... to assist in the search," Zawawi said in a statement.

Muslim-majority Malaysia is a favoured destination for Rohingya, who face persecution in their mostly Buddhist homeland of Myanmar, but authorities have in recent months been trying to stop them entering over coronavirus fears.

Refugees are not officially allowed to work in Malaysia but many do illegally, in industries ranging from construction to agriculture.

The country has stepped up maritime patrols since the outbreak of the pandemic in a bid to stop Rohingya boats from landing over fears that migrants could be carrying the virus.

Many boats have been turned back, sparking anger from rights groups, although some have made it ashore.

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