The general manager of the Four Points by Sheraton Langkawi Resort in the Malaysian tropical island destination has described how over a thousand refugees landed on a tourist beach close to his resort a couple of days ago.
Hotels on the island of Langkawi, close to the Thai border, organised to send food and water to them, Peter Athan told the New York Times.
Langkawi, popular with Australian holidaymakers, has become a target for people smugglers. Police say three boats turned up in the middle of the night to unload hundreds of refugees, who were taken into custody as they came ashore at the weekend.
The arrival of 1051 people on the beach on Monday came after 582 refugees turned up on Sunday on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
Langkawi is “synonymous with tropical paradise” according to Lonely Planet. The isle is part of an archipelago of 104 islands in the Andaman Sea, some 30 kilometres off the mainland coast of northwestern Malaysia.
Malaysian and Indonesian authorities say most of the unauthorised arrivals are Bangladeshis and ethnic Rohinga, a Muslim ethnic minority who live in western Myanmar and eastern Bangladesh.
Myanmar regards Rohinga as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and recommends they go back there.
Many thousands more are believed to be on the way to Langkawi and neighbouring islands. An international migration agency says thousands of refugees from Bangladesh and Myanmar are stranded at sea close to Thailand.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) told the BBC a Thai crackdown on recent arrivals meant many smugglers were now reluctant to land, meaning as many as 8000 of the smugglers’ clients may be stuck on boats with insufficient food and water.
Over the past three days, more than 2000 refugees have arrived in Malaysia or Indonesia after being rescued or swimming ashore, the agency said.
Thailand takes a dim view of unauthorised immigration, as do some other countries in the region. Singapore, although wealthy, takes no refugees at all, citing lack of space on the island state.
Malaysian police say people-smugglers have dumped at least 1018 hungry migrants in shallow waters off the coast of Langkawi since the weekend.
About 300 Bangladeshi men are being fed and looked after on the badminton court at a police detention centre, the BBC reported, adding that most of them were shirtless “and looking thin, weak and haggard”.
Written by Peter Needham in Taipei