Malaysia is a well known point for asylum seekers — Photo by reuters

KUALA LUMPUR: Eight men drowned and five others went missing after a boat loaded with 25 people believed to be from Afghanistan and Iraq overturned off southern Malaysia, police said Wednesday.

Police found the bodies of eight men on a beach in southern Johor state early Wednesday, said Che Mahazan Che Aik, a district police chief, while 12 others managed to swim to shore after their boat overturned.

Search and rescue operations were underway to find five others believed to be missing at sea, Che Mahazan told AFP.

Authorities were also still searching for the boat's skipper.

None of the men, believed to be between 20 and 35 years old, had travel documents but the survivors, who have been detained, claimed they were asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Iraq, Che Mahazan said.

Malaysia is a well-known transit point from people from war-torn poorer regional countries to embark on a perilous boat journey seeking to reach Australia via Indonesia in hope of a better life there.

Boats, often in poor condition and overcrowded, occasionally capsise. In June last year, seven Indonesians went missing and 17 others were rescued after their boat sank off Johor state.

A month later, Malaysian authorities rescued 46 Indonesians who were trying to sneak back into their country when their boat sank.

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