Malaysia reveals 139 graves at 'cruel' migrant camps

Malaysian police uncover 139 graves, some with multiple corpses, at 28 suspected trafficking camps near the country’s border with Thailand

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Malaysia has uncovered 139 graves of suspected human trafficking victims scattered around more than two dozen abandoned camps near the border with Thailand, the country's police chief said on Monday.

The police said some of the bodies show signs of torture and in some graves there were more than one body, as well as metal chains and ammunition nearby.

Malaysia's Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters that they are "shocked by the cruelty" and are working with Thai authorities to find perpetrators, while Thailand has announced on Monday that there were no human trafficking camps left in the country after a crackdown following the discovery of seven camps last month, where 39 bodies were found.

Thailand and Malaysia have been a major route for human smugglers who bring people from Myanmar and Bangladesh by boat, many of them Rohingya Muslims fleeing from persecution. Those desperate people are often held in jungle camps until their families pay ransom and are subjected to torture and starvation.

Khalid said one of the grave sites was metres away from a Thai trafficking site where twenty-six bodies were exhumed in early May.

Following the gruesome discovery, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak vowed to find people responsible for the human trafficking and mass graves in a Twitter message.

"I am deeply concerned with graves found on Malaysian soil purportedly connected to people smuggling. We will find those responsible,” he tweeted.

The recent discoveries of mass graves and trafficking camps have also brought back accusations of complicity against Malaysian and Thai officials, as many police officers have been arrested in an investigation into human trafficking in the two countries.

However, both Thailand and Malaysia reject claims that they have turned a blind eye to ongoing practice, and that any such complicity was the responsibility of a few individuals.

As Malaysian authorities say there may be more graves at the border area, the crisis at sea also continues.

The UN estimates that more than 3,000 migrants are still adrift in the Andaman Sea, and the number could be much higher.

Nearly 2,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and Bangladesh landed in Indonesia’s Aceh province and the shores of Malaysia in recent days after people smugglers abandoned them at sea. Hundreds of boat people were rescued by fishermen.

Malaysia and Indonesia offered settlement for a year for those who were rescued, but Thailand has so far refused to follow. Thai junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said migrants found in Thailand will be put in detention centers as before.

Both Malaysia and Thailand have been downgraded to Tier 3 status in the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report for not complying with the "minimum standards," in dealing with human trafficking.

Rohingya Muslims are not considered to be citizens by Myanmar because the country claims that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite them having lived in the country for generations.

Rohingya Muslims have been attacked by Buddhist mobs in recent years and thousands of men, women, and children have been subjected to forced migration.

According to the United Nations, the Rohingya are the most persecuted minority on the planet.

TRTWorld and agencies