Around 1,600 Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslim migrants from Burma have landed in Malaysia and Indonesia in the past two days, authorities said Monday.
Human traffickers apparently abandoned them at sea after crackdowns on traffickers in Thailand and Malaysia prevented the smugglers from bringing them to shore, activists said.
The Rohingyas are considered illegal settlers from Bangladesh in Burma, also known as Myanmar, and many have fled over the past three years due to attacks by Buddhist groups. They have been joined in their quest for a better life elsewhere by Bangladeshis fleeing poverty.
Earlier this month, a mass grave believed to contain Bangladeshis and Rohingyas was found in a trafficking camp in Songkhla province in Thailand, near the Malaysian border.
Human Rights Watch said the grave contained the remains of people who starved or died from disease while being held by smugglers awaiting payment before taking them into Malaysia.
“Thailand has tried to prevent traffickers from continuing their business … so that has forced them to go somewhere else,” Chris Lewa, director of Rohingya rights group the Arakan Project, told the AFP news agency. She said the refugees were “just trying to disembark before they die.”
She told the Associated Press that an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people were being held in ships in the Malacca Strait and nearby international waters.
Jamil Ahmed, deputy police chief of Langkawi island in Malaysia, told the AP that 865 men, 52 children and 101 women were picked up on Sunday. Around 600 people arrived in Aceh, Indonesia, the same day and have been taken to a sports stadium to be looked after and questioned, local police chief Lt. Col. Achmadi told the news agency.
“We believe there may be more boats coming,” Jamil said, the AP reported.
A separate migrant crisis has unfolded in the Mediterranean, which last month saw European Union leaders commit additional ships and double emergency aid to frontline member states Italy, Greece and Malta in an effort to stem the tide of migrants, after more than 1,300 died over three weeks.
Most of those who make the perilous journey to Europe are fleeing war, persecution and poverty in North Africa and the Middle East.