KUALA LUMPUR • The Malaysian authorities have found mass graves containing the remains of more than 20 people believed to be human-trafficking victims near the border with Thailand.
The heavily forested Thai-Malaysian border has been a transit point for smugglers bringing people to South-east Asia by boat from Myanmar and Bangladesh. The migrants are often held for ransom in squalid detention camps and, according to some accounts, face torture and starvation.
The police uncovered 24 bodies on Saturday in the Bukit Wang Burma area near the Malaysian border with Thailand, close to where the authorities in May had found hundreds of bodies in illegal detention camps.
"Following on from the operation in which we found... bodies of illegal immigrants, 24 more bodies have been found and dug up," the police said yesterday in a statement, adding that the remains had been handed over to medical experts.
It was not immediately clear if the bodies discovered were those of Rohingya, a minority ethnic group in Myanmar whose members have fled widespread persecution in that country.
In May, at least 106 bodies were found in trafficking camps in northern Malaysia along the Thai border, while at least seven camps and 33 bodies were found on the Thai side - discoveries that laid bare the brutal extent of the region's migrant crisis as well as the plight of the Rohingya.
Myanmar's Muslim minority have, for years, sought to escape what they say is worsening persecution by the country's Buddhist majority. Fleeing abroad by the thousands each year, they put their lives in the hands of often-brutal smugglers who arrange a perilous passage by sea and land.
A crackdown by the Thai authorities in May drove traffickers to abandon thousands of migrants on rickety, overcrowded boats in South-east Asian waters, triggering a regional humanitarian crisis.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE