Malaysia Begins to Dig Up Migrants’ Graves

By BenarNews Staff
150526-MY-body-620 Malaysian officials carry a body recovered from a human trafficking camp in Bukit Wang Burma, May 25, 2015.

Malaysian authorities on Tuesday began excavating a cluster of graves in the jungle along the Thai border, where the bodies of human-trafficking victims are believed to be buried.

Officials said they pulled a second body from a shallow grave on Tuesday, a day after recovering another body that was found above-ground.

Over the weekend authorities identified as many as 139 graves after discovering 28 human-smuggling camps abandoned in a remote area near Wang Kelian, a village in northern Perlis state.

Police said they were unable to excavate more human remains and would resume excavations Wednesday morning. The process could take three weeks, because of the steep and rugged terrain, they said.

In Kuala Lumpur, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced that some forest rangers had been detained on suspicion of being linked to the graves in the jungle and transnational human trafficking syndicates operating along the Thai-Malaysian border.

"We suspect some of them were involved ... but we are working with the forestry department in terms of enforcement, as they are supposed to carry out enforcement in the area," the state-run Bernama news agency quoted Zahid as telling reporters on Tuesday.

"I cannot reveal the details as yet. We are going to take legal action under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act against them," he added.

The grim discovery in the Malaysian jungle is the latest major twist in an illegal migration crisis that has gripped Southeast Asia since May 1, when graves holding the bodies of 26 migrants were found just across the border in Padang Besar, Thailand.

The development also marked the first official discovery of human trafficking camps on Malaysian territory since the crisis began.

Thousands of Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants have come ashore in the region this month, after Thailand began clamping down on human trafficking and preventing boatloads of illegal migrants from landing on its southwestern shores.

On Monday, Thai police said that no human trafficking camps were left in southern Thailand, after this month’s discovery of seven camps in the border region near Malaysia.

“We’re still looking for camps but we think there are no more camps on the Thai side,” Reuters quoted Phuttichart Ekachan, deputy chief of provincial police for Region 9, as saying.

A two-hour hike

The body that was excavated Tuesday was wrapped in a Muslim shroud and found in the forest in an area known as Bukit Wang Burma, Perlis police official Mohammad Bahar Alias said.

"Police believe the 37 structures found at the site is a tomb, but today only one grave could be dug," he said.

It takes two hours to hike up to the site of the suspected human-trafficking camp, he added. The site also featured two large wooden pens wrapped with barbed wire.

“These structures were believed to be used as human cages,” the Associated Press quoted Bahar as saying.

The camp may have held up to 300 people, AP reported.

Offshore developments

In related news on Tuesday, Thailand said it had started aerial reconnaissance flights in search of migrant boats stranded in the Andaman Sea, Agence France-Presse reported.

A day earlier, Thailand’s military-controlled government announced that it had deployed a helicopter carrier in its waters that would serve as a floating hospital and processing center for migrants found at sea.

"If any boats (with migrants) are found, the navy will lead it to this large navy vessel for assistance," AFP quoted Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha as telling reporters.

He added that Thailand would then "facilitate" their passage to "temporary shelters in Malaysia and Indonesia."

"If anyone is injured or sick, they can be treated at hospitals in Thailand but will face illegal entry charges – it is up to them to decide," Prayuth said.
The United States launched military surveillance flights over the weekend to locate stranded migrants, and has offered to provide regional governments with information about possible migrant boats in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, the Associated Press reported.

News from the Bay of Bengal

In Myanmar on Tuesday, officials said that the government and neighboring Bangladesh had agreed to send home some 200 Bangladeshis that the Myanmar navy had rescued off a boat found in its territorial waters last week, according to Reuters.

There were 200 Bangladeshis out of 208 found aboard the vessel, and the rest were “Bengalis” from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, a pejorative term that Myanmar officials use to describe ethnic Rohingyas, whose traditional home is in Rakhine.

In Dhaka, as she called on authorities to stop illegal emigration and human trafficking, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina lambasted compatriots for trying to emigrate illegally by sea in search of economic opportunities abroad.

Such people should be punished, the state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) quoted Hasina as saying on Sunday.

"They are tainting the image of the country along with pushing their [lives] into danger," she said.

IOM appeal

In Geneva, the International Organization for Migration said that U.S. $26 million was needed to help up to 10,000 people affected by the migrant crisis in Southeast Asia.

The money is needed to provide them with shelter, food, water, and psychological support, among other necessities, the IOM said.

According to estimates compiled by the IOM through Monday, some 3,200 migrants have landed in Indonesia and Malaysia off 13 boats, and 4,000 migrants are still at sea.

“The number one priority is still to find and rescue those still at sea, whilst caring for those who have landed, many of whom are malnourished and traumatized,” Jeff Labovitz, IOM’s chief of mission in Thailand, said Tuesday in a statement.

Hata Wahari contributed to this report.


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