Malaysian authorities confirm bodies discovered in 139 graves are migrants
Remains will be autopsied to determine causes of death
Australia confirmed it has repatriated 46 Vietnamese asylum seekers
Bangladesh's leader says that migrants should be punished for illegally leaving the country
Malaysian authorities have confirmed that the 139 graves and 28 abandoned camps discovered close to the Thai border are related to human trafficking.
Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said that Malaysian police and border guards, as part of an operation, found a burial site which contained corpses which had decomposed to the level that only skin and bones remained.
Fences and sentry posts indicated that the camps held captive migrants, he said.
“Some of the camps found showed that they have been occupied since 2013, and the latest two camps were abandoned two to three weeks ago,” Khalid told Bernama, the Malaysian state news agency.
“The police are unable to confirm whether all the graves contain human remains as the digs have not ended as yet,” he said.
He added that the bodies will be sent for post-mortem analysis to determine the causes of death before they are buried.
According to the International Organization for Migration, an estimated 25,000 Southeast Asian migrants took to seas in the first three months of 2015.
In recent weeks, hundreds of migrants have come ashore in Malaysia and in Aceh in Indonesia after making the risky journey south through the Andaman Sea.
Southeast Asian nations are facing a humanitarian crisis as thousands of migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar take to the sea in boats, hoping to settle elsewhere in the region.
In recent weeks, police in Thailand have reported finding graves and camps from human trafficking on their side of the border, and they have cracked down on people-smuggling there.
That has intensified the crisis at sea. Boats carrying migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh stay away from the shore, deepening the danger for the people crammed on board.
Many of the migrants are Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority fleeing persecution in western Myanmar. There are also economic migrants from Bangladesh seeking work in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.
U.S.-Thai military cooperation
The Thai navy will deploy a “floating base” to the Andaman Sea to offer assistance to seaborne migrants, the Bangkok Post reported.
The vessel, the HTMS Ang Thong, will provide immediate assistance before Thailand “facilitates” migrants’ transfer to “temporary shelters in Malaysia and Indonesia,” Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said. Thailand has so far declined to allow migrants to be sheltered, even temporarily, on its soil.
The general said that he would welcome U.S. patrols in the region, but they should be under Thai chain of command. The military had previously referred a U.S. request to use Phuket’s international airport as a base from which to conduct surveillance flights to the government’s airport authority.
At a meeting last week, Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to accept thousands of migrants temporarily as long as the international community helps resettle them within one year.
Thailand has yet to announce what role it will play, although in a joint statement, the three nations said they had all taken measures beyond their international obligations to address the “current influx of irregular migrants.”
Australia turns back boats
Joint Australian-Vietnamese operations repatriated 46 Vietnamese nationals last month, the commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, Major General Andrew Bottrell, told a senate hearing Monday.
After spending about a month at sea the migrants were given on-board interviews, which lasted between 40 minutes and two hours. Immigration officials told the same senate hearing that none of the asylum seekers met Australia’s criteria for refugee status.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said in a statement that the operation showed that Australia’s strategy to curb illegal migration was working.
“This latest turn back should act as a reminder to people seeking to come to Australia illegally that you should not be under any illusion that things have changed,” the statement read.
“Operation Sovereign Borders is ensuring that the illegal way to Australia is closed.”
The move was criticized from the Vietnamese community in Australia, which accused Australia of returning vulnerable people to persecution, the Australian newspaper reported.
Bangladeshi PM: Punish migrants
Bangladesh’s leader, Sheikh Hasina, said Sunday that those seeking to leave the country in illegally should be punished along with the human traffickers who facilitate their escape.
“Side by side with the middlemen, punishment will have to be given to those who are moving from the country in illegal way,” Hasina told senior officials, Bangladesh’s state media reported. “They are tainting the image of the country along with putting their lives in danger.”
Authorities are preparing to repatriate 208 Bangladeshi citizens who were rescued by the Myanmar navy in that country’s territorial waters, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.
“We have been informed through sources that the rescued Bangladeshis are staying at a refugee center in a madrasa building in the Thandwe area of Rakhine state in Myanmar,” the agency quoted Lt. Col Abu Zar, a Bangladeshi border commander, as saying, citing Bangladeshi media.
“Local members of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are providing food to the Bangla language people,” he said.
The report said dozens of Bangladeshi citizens were stranded in Myanmar territorial waters.
CNN’s Kocha Olarn and Chieu Luu, and journalist Thasha Jayamanogaran in Kuala Lumpur, contributed to this report.