KUALA LUMPUR: Thirty-seven people believed to be Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar were found on a beach in northern Malaysia on Monday, police said, the latest arrivals in what authorities fear could be a new wave of people smuggling by sea.
Dozens of Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh have boarded boats in recent months to try to reach Malaysia, which had seen a decline in arrivals after a 2015 crackdown on trafficking.
Last month, 35 migrants were found on Sungai Belati beach in the northern state of Perlis.
On Monday, 37 men were detained around the town of Simpang Empat after landing at the same beach in the early morning, state police chief Noor Mushar Mohamad told Reuters.
“We believe they were traveling on a much larger boat, before being transferred into smaller boats at sea and taken to different places,” he said, adding the men were in good health and have been handed over to immigration officials.
More than 700,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh in 2017 fleeing an army crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, according to UN agencies.
Myanmar regards Rohingya as illegal migrants from the Indian subcontinent and has confined tens of thousands to sprawling camps in Rakhine since violence swept the area in 2012.
Officials believe the migrants found on Monday are from Myanmar or Bangladesh.
“We are still investigating where the boats are coming from, but we suspect human trafficking syndicates are involved,” Noor Mushar said.
An outbreak of sectarian violence in Rakhine in 2012 prompted tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee Myanmar by sea. The exodus peaked in 2015, when an estimated 25,000 people fled across the Andaman Sea for Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, many drowning in unsafe and overloaded boats.