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Thousands of Migrants Arriving in Indonesia, Malaysia

Illegal immigrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh arrive at police processing center in Langkawi, Malaysia, May 11, 2015.

Illegal immigrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh arrive at police processing center in Langkawi, Malaysia, May 11, 2015.

Since Sunday, more than 2,000 people have arrived in Indonesia and Malaysia by boat. Thousands of others could follow. They are all migrants – moving from country to country to find work.

The arrivals follow efforts by Thailand against human traffickers. Thai officials want to punish criminal groups that secretly helped ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Officials say more than 1,400 Rohingya migrants were rescued Monday from four boats in Indonesian and Malaysian waters. This followed the arrival of at least two overcrowded wooden boats on Sunday along the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh Province. Those boats were carrying about 600 people. Some of the passengers were women and children.

An Indonesian official said those migrants were tricked and told they were off the coast of Malaysia. They were then told to swim to land. Some of the survivors were sick and weak with hunger. They were taken to Indonesian medical centers for treatment.

At an Islamic center in Aceh, a migrant named Muhammad Juned spoke to reporters. He said his group had been at sea for two months.

The man said there were more than 500 people on three boats. A reporter asked him where they were going and why? The man said, “We wanted to enter Malaysia to earn money.”

Malaysian police said they were processing more than 1,000 migrants on the island of Langkawi.

The International Organization for Migration said its workers were going to Indonesia to assist the migrants. Joe Lowry is a spokesman for the group.

“People are brought in, registered, given accommodation, food, water, medical attention if they need it by a combination of IOM teams and the authorities, depending on what the authorities need and what they want us to supply.”

This month, Thailand launched a campaign against the trafficking of Rohingya Muslims to neighboring countries. The campaign began after the discovery of human remains buried at what have been called “slave camps” in the southern part of the country.

Joe Lowry says Thai officials have, at least for now, stopped traffickers from bringing Rohingya to Thailand.

“With all the attention of the camps situation in Thailand in the last couple of days and weeks, it seems that Thailand is closed off for smugglers at the moment.”

Thailand’s army chief on Monday told reporters that a search continues for more camps where illegal migrants were detained.

The Rohingya are Muslims from Bangladesh and Myanmar. The United Nations considers the ethnic group one of the world’s most mistreated minorities.

Myanmar is a largely Buddhist country. It considers the Rohingya illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Yet many Rohingya have lived in northern Myanmar since the early 1900s. They have faced religious violence in recent years. The unrest has led many to flee the area by sea.

Thailand has been a stopping point for Rohingya usually fleeing Sittwe province in Myanmar. The Rohingya are hoping to reach Indonesia or Malaysia, two countries where Muslims are in the majority.

But traffickers in Thailand have victimized the Rohingya. They demand more money from them for their freedom. Others have sold debt bondage in Malaysia -- the migrants promise to work for someone or a business there until their debt is repaid.

As a result of Thailand’s campaign, thousands more Rohingya are still at sea. Chris Lewa operates the Rohingya rights group, The Arakan Project.

“I’m interested to see how many will start landing. I think there should be at least 7,000 in my opinion. But maybe not all [are] landing. Maybe some will return [to Myanmar or Bangladhesh], who knows. But I’m just trying to monitor that.

The United Nations’ refugee agency estimates that 25,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis sailed on traffickers’ boats in the first three months of 2015. That is two times as many as the number in the same period last year.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

This report was based on a story from VOA correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok. George Grow wrote it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

migrant n. a person who moves from place to place in search of work

overcrowdedadj. something that is too crowded, filled or carrying too many people or things

accommodationn. a place where travelers can sleep and find other services

mistreatedadj. treating someone or something badly

debt bondage – n. the period in which someone is required to work for someone else

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