PETALING JAYA - All vessels ferrying illegal immigrants will be escorted out of Malaysian waters, says the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.
MMEA director-general Maritime Admiral Datuk Mohd Amdan Kurish said patrols were stepped up along the country's borders with Thailand.
He said the order came from the National Security Council (NSC), which came amid reports that up to 8,000 Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar might be heading this way.
The Home Ministry declared that the Rohingyas and Bangladeshis caught trying to sneak into the country would not be treated as victims of human trafficking but as illegal immigrants.
The ministry's international division undersecretary Muhd Khair Razman Mohamed Annuar said these people were smuggled out of their countries voluntarily, not forced out.
They include the 1,000-plus Rohingyas and Bangladeshis who were dumped by human traffickers on the shores of Langkawi recently and the 900 found off the coast of Aceh, Indonesia.
MMEA's northern region enforcement chief Maritime First Admiral Tan Kok Kwee said humanitarian assistance would be given to those on board the intercepted ships when necessary.
MMEA had four large ships and three boats on patrol while the Royal Malaysian Navy had several ships on lookout, Adm Tan said.
NSC secretary Datuk Thajudeen Abdul Wahab said the council issued the order to MMEA on Tuesday.
"It is to prevent any intrusion from any party," he said.
Muhd Khair Razman told The Star's Malay portal mStar Online that the Bangladeshis were economic migrants who left their country to seek employment opportunities.
The Rohingnyas, he said, were fleeing the Rakhine region of Myanmar because they were not recognised as citizens.
"Based on this, the 1,158 Rohingyas and Bangladeshis (who landed on Langkawi) are categorised as illegal immigrants and will be sent to detention depots before being sent back to their country of origin," he said.
Muhd Khair Razman clarified the matter as there were views that the Bangladeshis and Rohingyas were victims of human trafficking.
The illegals will be transferred to the Belantik immigration depot in Kedah in stages by the navy and MMEA.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which is helping Indonesia take care of the Rohingyas who landed in Aceh, said it was concerned about the 8,000 others still at sea.
"We entreat governments to facilitate disembarkation and the provision of humanitarian aid and medical treatment," said IOM spokesman Joe Lowry.
A group of ASEAN parliamentarians criticised Indonesian authorities for reportedly towing a boat with about 400 migrants back to international waters after it arrived off the coast of Aceh on Monday.
"Towing migrants out to sea and declaring that they aren't your problem is not a solution to the wider regional crisis," said Klang MP Charles Santiago, who is president of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.
In a statement Santiago said any solution should include securing binding commitments from Myanmar to end the persecution.