PETALING JAYA (The Star/Asia News Network) - One year after landing in Malaysia, following a harrowing ordeal in the Bay of Bengal, 36 Rohingya refugees have been resettled in the United States.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that the 36 refugees departed Malaysia early Thursday morning under its resettlement programme.
The refugees had been released from the Belantik Immigration Detention Centre the previous afternoon.
"UNHCR welcomes the move by the Malaysian Government to release the 36 extremely vulnerable Rohingya refugees from the Belantik Immigration Detention Centre," said Richard Towle, UNHCR Representative in Malaysia in a statement on Friday.
"We are also extremely grateful to the Government of the United States of America for their generosity in providing resettlement spaces for this group of extremely vulnerable individuals, for whom no other safe, long-term solution would be an option," he added.
In May last year, over 1,000 people from Bangladesh and Myanmar had arrived by boat after being stranded in the Bay of Bengal.
They were stranded at sea after human trafficking syndicates abandoned them following the discovery of mass graves and detention camps for Rohingya and Bangladeshis in Thailand and Malaysia.
According to UNHCR, 371 of the refugees were identified as Rohingya from Myanmar and of concern to the commission.
Towle, however, expressed concern for the remaining 334 Rohingya "boat arrivals" who are still at the Belantik centre.
"These people have undergone traumatic experiences at the hands of smugglers and traffickers, and are in need of specialised care.
"The best option for them is to be released into UNHCR's care where we can assess their protection needs and help find support for them within the refugee communities in Malaysia," he said.
The Rohingya are considered by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
They are considered to be stateless and were often subjected to arbitrary violence and forced labour in Myanmar.
They come mainly from the Arakan state in Myanmar, which borders Bangladesh.
To escape persecution back home, they took long and arduous journeys by boat to other countries in the region.
As of February this year, there are 53,700 Rohingya refugees registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia.
The Malaysian Government does not legally recognise refugees, although they are allowed to work in informal sectors.