Malaysia can no longer take in Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Friday, citing a struggling economy and dwindling resources as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Muslim-majority Malaysia has long been a favored destination for Rohingya seeking a better life after fleeing a 2017 military-led crackdown in Myanmar and refugee camps in Bangladesh.
But Malaysia, which does not recognize refugee status, has recently turned away boats and detained hundreds of Rohingya, amid rising anger towards foreigners who have been accused of spreading the coronavirus and taking up scarce state funds.
"We can no longer take more as our resources and capacity are already stretched, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic," Muhyiddin said in teleconference with other leaders of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Myanmar.
"Yet, Malaysia is unfairly expected to do more to accommodate incoming refugees."
Muhyiddin urged the U.N. refugee agency to speed up the resettlement of Rohingya in Malaysia to third countries. The agency says there are more than 100,000 Rohingya in Malaysia though rights groups say the number is higher.