MORE than 100 Rohingya refugees escaped a detention centre in Malaysia after a riot broke out, with one man killed after being hit by a vehicle on a highway as he fled, police said last Friday (2).
The Rohingya experience persecution in their predominantly Buddhist homeland of Myanmar. Many have fled to affluent, Muslim-majority Malaysia or refugee camps in Bangladesh.
They often endure harrowing, months-long sea journeys to arrive in Malaysia by boat or sneak into the country via its porous border with Thailand.
If caught, they are often sent to detention centres that rights groups claim are overcrowded and filthy.
A total of 115 Rohingya migrants and 16 others – all of them men – rioted in their detention building before escaping the Bidor temporary immigration depot in northern Perak state last Thursday (1), local police chief Mohamad Naim Asnawi said.
Police and officers from other agencies were searching for the missing detainees, he added.
He said one refugee believed to be a Rohingya had been killed on the north-south highway after being hit by a passing vehicle in the dark.
Police said the cause of the riot and break-out are under investigation.
“We have about 250 officers from the police and immigration department conducting the manhunt,” Naim said, adding that five refugees had been captured.
A photographer at the search area said officers used four-wheel-drive vehicles and motorcycles inside a palm oil plantation to search for the escapees. One illegal refugee who was caught in the bushes was handcuffed and transported on a motorcycle with a bandage on one leg.
The search area also included a nearby forest and streams where the refugees could be hiding, and police have established roadblocks.
From mid-November to late January, 1,752 refugees – mostly women and children – landed in the Indonesian provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, according to the UN refugee agency. It said it was the biggest influx into the Muslim-majority country since 2015.
More than 3,500 Rohingya are believed to have attempted the risky journey to southeast Asian countries in 2022, it said.
Nearly 1,000 Rohingya died or went missing since the start of that year while attempting hazardous sea crossings, the agency estimates.
More than 100,000 Rohingya live on the margins of society in Malaysia, working illegally in construction and other lowpaid jobs.