Malaysian authorities are scrambling to track down about 2,000 Rohingya men who attended a religious gathering that has led to a big spike in Covid-19 cases across South-East Asia, a security source and two other people told Reuters.
More than 100,000 Rohingya live in Malaysia after fleeing from Myanmar, but they are considered illegal immigrants. Their status would likely make many of them reluctant to identify themselves to get tested for the virus even if they showed symptoms, other sources, in the Rohingya community, said.
Malaysia’s search for the Rohingya highlights the challenge for governments trying to track the virus among communities living without official papers and wary of authorities.
The religious gathering late last month at a mosque on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur was attended by some 16,000 people, including the Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, one source said.
As well as the Rohingya, about 1,500 Muslims from across Asia attended.
Nearly 600 Covid-19 cases in South-East Asia have been linked to the gathering, including 513 in Malaysia, 61 in Brunei, 22 in Cambodia, at least five in Singapore and two in Thailand.
Malaysia has 790 virus cases in all.
Malaysian authorities have been tracking down the participants but say they have been unable to find about 4,000 of them.
“They have gone back to their families across Malaysia, it has become difficult for us to contact them. Many are afraid of admitting that they attended, they fear they will get into problems with the authorities,” one of the sources, who works with the refugee community, said.
“The government is concerned that if they don’t come forward, the infection might spread further.”