KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, May 13 (UPI) -- The Malaysian government surprised the United Nations' refugee agency Wednesday when it announced that no more refugees would be admitted into the country -- leaving thousands waiting offshore.
People seeking political asylum from the Republic of the Union of Myanmar have been looking for refuge in Malaysia and Indonesia, along with immigrants from Bangladesh. For years, the nations quietly took in the Muslim Rohingya refugees but on Wednesday said "no more," The Guardian reported.
"We don't want them to come here," Deputy Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, who oversees immigration, said. "We are not prepared to accept that number coming into our shores and those people who are already in, we are sending them home anyway."
Malaysia's announcement follows a similar declaration by the Indonesian government.
Not only has the Malaysian government turned back boatloads of Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees as soon as they reach shore, it says it will also deport asylum seekers who have gotten into the country -- saying it wants to send the "right message," the Guardian reported.
"I would like them to be turned back and ask them to go back to their own country. We cannot tell them we are welcoming them," the deputy minister said.
The Burmese Rohingyas are Muslims trying to escape persecution in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar, and those that have successfully made the trip have been documented as needing protection by the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR).
One boat carrying refugees arrived in Indonesia on Monday, the Guardian reported, only to be denied entry and given directions to Malaysia.
"UNHCR is surprised at reports of Indonesia turning back one of the boats," spokeswoman Vivian Tan said. "Such a practice is inconsistent with Indonesia's search-and-rescue efforts to date, which have focused on saving lives.
"We continue to appeal to countries in the region to share responsibility and avert a humanitarian crisis."
The sudden refusals of refugees signals a new stance by Southeast Asian nations that have permitted immigrants in the past and allowed them to work.
Officials say about 8,000 migrants remain on crowded boats that have been at sea since March. Many of them require medical attention and will die if they don't get it soon.
The Malaysian government is now trying to determine how to send the thousands of refugees within its borders back to their homelands, and has stepped up shore patrols in search of additional immigrant arrivals.
All told, about 25,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees boarded boats seeking asylum between January and March -- which is about twice as many that did during the same time last year, the UN's refugee agency said.
Some of the boats are headed for Thailand, where authorities recently discovered a mass grave of migrants in a "slave camp," ABC Online's report said.