More than 1,000 Rohingyas and Bangladeshis have landed illegally on a beach in a northern resort island in Malaysia and all have been detained for processing, police said Monday.
Langkawi island deputy police chief Jamil Ahmed said they were believed to have come in three boats, adding police received a tip-off from a local fisherman that the boats were coming ashore.
He said police began picking up the 1,018 Rohingyas and Bangladeshis late Sunday.
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The Rohingyas have for decades suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination in Myanmar, which considers them illegal settlers from Bangladesh. Attacks on the Rohingyas by Buddhist mobs in the last three years have sparked an exodus to nearby countries.
Their arrival in Malaysia comes at about the same times as boats carrying nearly 600 Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims washed ashore in western Indonesia, some after captains and smugglers abandoned the ships, leaving passengers to fend for themselves, survivors and migrant experts said.
When the four ships neared Indonesia’s shores early Sunday, some passengers jumped into the water and swam, said Steve Hamilton, of the International Organization for Migration in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital.
They have been taken to a sports stadium in Lhoksukon, the capital of North Aceh District to be cared for and questioned, said Lt. Col. Achmadi, chief of police in the area, who uses only one name.
Sick and weak after more than two months at sea, some were getting medical attention.
“We had nothing to eat,” said Rashid Ahmed, a 43-year-old Rohingya man who was on one of the boats. He said he left Myanmar’s troubled state of Rakhine with his eldest son three months ago.
An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people are now being held in large and small ships in the Malacca Strait and nearby international waters, said Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, which has monitored the movements of Rohingya for more than a decade. She added that crackdowns on trafficking syndicates in Thailand and Malaysia have prevented brokers from bringing them to shore.
Some are held even after family members pay for them to be released from the boats.
“I am very concerned about smugglers abandoning boatloads at sea,” Lewa said, noting that some people have been stranded for more than two months.
Tightly confined, and with limited access to food and clean water, their health is deteriorating, Lewa said, adding that dozens of deaths have been reported.
Thailand has long been considered a regional hub for human traffickers.
The tactics of brokers and agents started changing in November as authorities began to tighten security on land — a move apparently aimed at appeasing the U.S. government as it prepares to release its annual Trafficking in Persons report next month. Last year, Thailand was downgraded to the lowest level, putting it on par with North Korea and Syria.
Rohingya packing into ships in the Bay of Bengal have been joined in growing numbers by Bangladeshis fleeing poverty and hoping to find a better life elsewhere.
Up until recently, their first stop was Thailand, where they were held in open pens in jungle camps as brokers collected “ransoms” of $2,000 or more from family and friends. Those who could pay continued onward, usually to Malaysia or other countries. Those who couldn’t were sometimes beaten, killed or left to die.
Since May 1, police have unearthed two dozen bodies from shallow graves in the mountains of southern Thailand, the apparent victims, they say, of smuggling rings.
Thai authorities have since arrested dozens of people, including a powerful mayor and a man named, Soe Naing, otherwise known as Anwar, who was accused of being one of the trafficking kingpins in southern Thailand. More than 50 police officers are also under investigation.