By Quddous Ahmed
Malaysia trafficking camps reveal discovery of 139 graves, some containing more than one body.
139 graves were discovered in 28 human trafficking camps along Malaysia’s northern border with Thailand, reveals Malaysia’s chief of police.
Khalid Abu Bakar said that some of the graves contained the remains of more than one victim, all thought to be migrants from Burma and Bangladesh.
“The operation which we have been conducting from 11 May to 23 May, we discovered 139 of what we believe are graves,” Mr Khalid said at a news conference.
“It’s a very sad scene … To us, even one (grave) is serious and we have found 139 … we are working closely with our counterparts in Thailand. We will find the people who did this,” he said.
The camps were located within 500 metres of the Thai border. Their discovery follows the unearthing of 26 bodies in early May on the Thai side of the border.
The Malaysian police chief said one of the new graves was just 100m from the Thai discovery.
“The first team of our officers has arrived in the area this morning to exhume the bodies,” said Mr Khalid.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak released a statement pledging to catch those responsible.
He said: “I am deeply concerned with graves found on Malaysian soil purportedly connected to people smuggling. We will find those responsible.”
It is understood that 86 people have already been charged with trafficking offences in Malaysia since last year. They are thought to include several foreigners, probably Thais, and local villagers from the border region.
The graves are said to be up to five years old and none of the victims have yet been identified. However, they are almost certain to be Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Burma and economic migrants from Bangladesh.
The discovery of the camps and graves comes following a crackdown by Thai and Malaysian authorities and exposes the heart of a multi-million pound trafficking operation involving criminals from Thailand, Malaysia, Burma and Bangladesh.
The discovery of the mass graves suggest that many of the migrants died in captivity, either because they were unable to pay for their release or because of the abuses they suffered at the hands of their traffickers.
Last week, the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand responded to the continued crisis over migrant boats abandoned by their traffickers in the Strait of Malacca by agreeing to reverse a policy of towing the boats into international waters.
Malaysia and Indonesia both agreed to take in the migrants and process them as refugees. The economic migrants from Bangladesh will be sent home, but there remains confusion over whether the Rohingya Muslims will be returned to their life of persecution in Burma.
The abandonment of the migrants in their boats and the discovery of the camps is, in large part, a consequence of a decision by the military ruler of Thailand, General Prayut Chan-o-cha to launch a crackdown on the traffickers.
Arrests last month in southern Thailand disrupted the traffickers network and the flow of migrants. Traffickers who were not arrested abandoned their human cargo at sea and deserted the camps along the Thai-Malaysia border.
The “ethnic cleansing” of migrants raises a lot of questions for human right activists. This comes when Tim Farron and Norman Lamb unite to replace the Human Rights Act, which was passed by Labour in 1998, with a British Bill of Rights.
Sources: Sky News, The Guardian, The Times