Malaysia ready to provide temporary shelter for Rohingya fleeing violence

Rohingya refugees are seen waiting for a boat to cross the border through the Naf river on Sept 7, 2017.
Rohingya refugees are seen waiting for a boat to cross the border through the Naf river on Sept 7, 2017.PHOTO REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Malaysia's coast guard will not turn away Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar and is willing to provide temporary shelter for them, the maritime agency's chief said on Friday (Sept 8).

Rohingya insurgents attacked several police posts and an army base in Myanmar on Aug 25. The ensuing clashes and a military counter-offensive has killed at least 400 people and triggered the exodus of more than 160,000 people to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Malaysia, hundreds of kilometres to the south on the Andaman Sea, is likely to see more boat people from Myanmar in coming weeks and months because of the renewed violence, said Zulkifli Abu Bakar, director-general of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

Malaysia is already home to over 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," Mr 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 United Nations Refugee Convention, treats refugees as illegal migrants.

Thailand has also said it is preparing to receive people fleeing the fighting in Myanmar. There are about 59,000 Rohingya refugees registered with the UN 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.