There are about 2,000 migrants thrown from boats by smugglers on the shores of Indonesia and Malaysia over the last week, and there are about 8,000 more migrants with children who are still sailing without land to settle onto. The report comes as discoveries of death camps for migrants in Thailand surfaced.
Many of these migrants are the Rohingya Muslims who according to the United Nations are the world’s most persecuted ethnic minority. They travel through the western border of Myanmar down through Bangladesh with hopes of escaping racial hatred in Myanmar and finding a better life in Indonesia and Malaysia.
While some of them wanted to reach Malaysia and Indonesia in the hopes of a more comfortable life, some were kidnapped by human smugglers and confined at death camps in Thailand. They will only be released if their families are able to pay ransom amounting to as much as $4,000.
Fears for Rohingya Muslims stranded at sea
“Our biggest concern is the 8,000 migrants who are unable to land on shore. We know the longer they are at sea, the more their health will degrade. They suffer from vitamin deficiency and will soon look like skeletons. Beriberi is a major concern,” chief for the International Organization for Migration or IOM, Jeff Labovitz, told Anadolu Agency.
Labovitz said there were 600 migrants who had landed in Indonesia and more than 1,000 who landed in Malaysia. However, as both nations toughen their policy on migrants, sending back boats intercepted within their borders, the IOM now faces the almost impossible task of locating the boats.
“We need to find where these boats are, but it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. We welcome any government who is able to off-load these migrants and bring them some humanitarian help,” Labovitz said.
Authorities are expecting that more migrants on boats will be intercepted in the coming months especially that it proved to be a lucrative business for people smugglers.
“It is a steady business. [The Smugglers] count heads and collect money. When they get to the number they are looking for [usually 500], they call them [the boats] up to leave. The Rohingya themselves are walking the camp and recruiting,” Andrew Day, an activist working with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, told the Anadolu Agency.
Death Camps in Thailand
On May 1, 33 bodies of Rohingya migrants were discovered in abandoned death camps in Southern Thailand. Kidnapped Rohingya Muslims were imprisoned in bamboo cages. Their smugglers will force them to call their families and ask for a ransom amounting to as much as $4,000.
Michael Sheridan of The Sunday Times has personally seen 26 graves of Rohingya Muslims who did not survive captivity.
“I counted three about the right size for a child,” Sheridan wrote.
He said the most shocking information about these death camps is that they were located close by the main road where local villagers normally pass by. The residents may have known about the camps but they chose to turn blind eyes, much worse is that they chose to shake heads when asked about the matter, Sheridan wrote.
In 2013, Reuters exposed Thai immigration officials selling Rohingya Muslims to traffickers for $400 each just to get rid of them. Sheridan reported that Rohingya Muslims are continually being victimized by human smugglers and wicked officials. However, the Thai government is still refusing the United Nations to meet with the Rohingyas in person, Sheridan noted.
In fact, the Royal Thai Navy has charged Australian journalist Alan Morison and Thai journalist Chutima Sidisathian of criminal defamation for exposing the plight of the Rohingya Muslims.
UN calls for search and rescue operations among Southeast Asian governments
Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or UNHCR, is calling for officials in the Southeast Asian region to set up search and rescue operations for thousands of migrants lost in the sea. He called for authorities to spare the people from any form of detention.
“UNHCR urges against indefinite detention of those rescued, who should be given access to basic rights and services including family unification, shelter, healthcare and where possible, the right to work while longer-term solutions are sought,” Edwards said.
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