Thailand (BBN)-Thousands of refugees from Bangladesh and Myanmar are stranded at sea close to Thailand, according to an international migration agency.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) told the BBC a Thai crackdown on recent arrivals meant many smugglers were now reluctant to land.
As many as 8,000 people are believed to be stuck on boats, reports BBC quoting the IOM.
In the past two days more than 2,000 have arrived in Malaysia or Indonesia after being rescued or swimming ashore.
Bangladeshi migrants, and ethnic Rohingyas who face persecution in Myanmar, are normally brought by people smugglers.
But Jeff Labovitz, head of mission for IOM Asia Pacific, told the BBC that the discovery last week of dozens of human remains in abandoned camps in the south of Thailand had prompted a police crackdown and therefore people smugglers were holding their boats at sea.
“Boats seem to have stopped coming – but some are en route and some are waiting to off-load. Where they used to process people on land, for final payments, they are now doing this off-shore – so more people are being held off-shore. Now things have become so hot, there’s nowhere for them to go,” he said.
He said that an estimate by the Arakan Project, which monitors the movements of Rohingyas, that 8,000 people are stranded at sea could not be verified but seemed credible.
Malaysian officials said on Monday that 1,018 Bangladeshi and Rohingya refugees had landed illegally on Langkawi island, apparently abandoned by people smugglers who were transporting them to Thailand.
Indonesian authorities rescued nearly 600 migrants stranded off the coast of Aceh on Sunday and more than 400 others early on Monday.
Police in Langkawi said three boats arrived into shallow waters near Langkawi in the middle of the night and the refugees offloaded.
“We think there were three boats that ferried 1,018 migrants,” said Langkawi deputy police chief Jamil Ahmed.
He said the 555 Bangladeshis and 463 Rohingya, including 99 women and 54 children, would be handed over to the immigration department.
Authorities expected more migrants to arrive from waters around the area, he added.
The migrants rescued off Indonesia on Sunday have been taken to a sports stadium in Lhoksukon, the capital of North Aceh district, chief of police for the area Lt Col Achmadi said.
Some were getting medical attention after being found sick and starving.
“We had nothing to eat,” said Rashid Ahmed, a 43-year-old Rohingya man who was on one of the boats. He told AFP that he had left Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state with his son three months ago.
Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar often travel to Thailand with agents promising to get them to Malaysia.
They are sometimes held in jungle camps while agents demand a ransom to be paid to continue the journey.
Three Thais and a Burmese national have been arrested in Thailand on suspicion of human trafficking after last week’s discovery of shallow graves in abandoned camps.
Who are the Rohingyas?
Rohingyas are a distinct, Muslim ethnic group mainly living in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma
Thought to be descended from Muslim traders who settled there more than 1,000 years ago
Also live in Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan
In Myanmar, they are regularly persecuted – subjected to forced labour, have no land rights, and are heavily restricted
In Bangladesh many are also desperately poor, with no documents or job prospects