Police blame riot after 115 Rohingya and 16 other people from Myanmar escaped the facility on Thursday night.

Malaysia is searching for dozens of Rohingya refugees and other people from Myanmar after they escaped from a temporary immigration detention centre in the country’s north.

One man was killed after 131 men escaped from the Bidor facility in the northern state of Perak on Thursday night, the Immigration Department said in a statement. Perak police said the man had been hit by a car when he tried to cross the main north-south highway, and that the men fled following a riot at the camp.

Some 115 of the men were Rohingya and the remaining 16 of other Myanmar ethnicities.

Immigration Department director-general Ruslin Jusoh said 375 police, soldiers and reservist volunteers had been deployed to look for them.

Malaysia is a popular destination for the mostly Muslim ethnic Rohingya, hundreds of thousands of whom fled Myanmar for neighbouring Bangladesh in 2017 after a brutal military crackdown that is now the subject of a genocide investigation at the International Court of Justice.

Many have sought to escape the grim conditions in Myanmar and the Bangladesh refugee camps by making dangerous journeys by boat to Southeast Asia. Some 569 died or went missing at sea last year, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said last month.

People from Myanmar made up 88 percent of the 185,300 people registered with the UNHCR as refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia at the end of 2023.

Some 107,670 of those registered with the agency are Rohingya who were stripped of their citizenship by a military government in the 1980s. Other people from Myanmar have sought sanctuary in Malaysia amid a deepening civil war since the military seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi three years ago.

Malaysia has no system to process applications for asylum, and refugees are considered undocumented migrants. Most live a precarious existence, at risk of arrest as “illegal migrants” or exploitation in low-paid jobs that Malaysians do not want.

The immigration department has accelerated a crackdown on undocumented migrants in recent months, reporting regular raids, but the UNHCR has not been allowed to visit immigration detention centres to verify the status of refugees for a number of years.

In April 2022, more than 500 Rohingya refugees, including children, fled a temporary detention centre in Penang state and six were killed trying to cross the highway.

That incident was also blamed on a riot.


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