Langkawi, Malaysia (BBN)-Malaysian officials say 1,018 Bangladeshi and Rohingya refugees have landed illegally on Langkawi island.
They were apparently stranded at sea, abandoned by people smugglers who were transporting them to Thailand, rights groups said.
On Sunday, Indonesian authorities rescued nearly 600 migrants stranded off the coast of Aceh, reports BBC.
More than 100,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar, also known as Burma, which does not recognise them as citizens.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says a recent crackdown in Thailand on trafficking has meant that smugglers were leaving migrants on ship “camps” instead of bringing them on to land.
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 AFP news agency reported that Indonesian police had found another boat drifting off the coast of Aceh on Monday morning with 400 men, women and children from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
‘NOTHING TO EAT’
The migrants rescued 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.
Last week, dozens of human remains were found in abandoned refugee camps in the south of Thailand.
Three Thais and a Burmese national have been arrested in Thailand on suspicion of human trafficking.
IOM told the BBC that the resulting crackdown on illegal arrivals from the Rohingya ethnic minority meant many smugglers were now unwilling to bring passengers onto land.
A spokesman for IOM said that thousands of refugees are believed to be stranded at sea close to Thailand.
“We believe there are more people waiting to land,” said Jeff Labovitz, head of mission for IOM Asia Pacific. “There’s a push to address the issue of smugglers’ camps in Thailand and there [have] been numerous arrests so smugglers are not landing any more.”
“There’s been a crackdown and this is the result of the crackdown,” he said.