TIME Malaysia

Rohingya Survivors Speak of Their Ordeals as 139 Suspected Graves Are Found in Malaysia

Members of special police force chat after returning to a police camp near Wang Kelian in northern Malaysia, close to the border with Thailand
Damir Sagolj—Reuters Members of a special police force chat after returning to a police camp near Wang Kelian in northern Malaysia, close to the border with Thailand , on May 25, 2015

Burma's persecuted Muslim minority takes unspeakable risks into order to flee to Malaysia

Less than a kilometer from Malaysia’s border with Thailand, the trappings of death are littered across the jungle: a stretcher made of branches to carry bodies, reams of white cloth used to wrap the deceased in Muslim tradition and, most menacing of all, empty boxes for 9-mm bullets.

On May 25, Malaysia’s Inspector General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar, confirmed that there were at least 139 suspected graves strewn across the Perlis range of hills that rise from Malaysia into Thailand, in the vicinity of nearly 30 abandoned camps. How many bodies each possible grave contains is not yet clear, nor is it known how the people may have died. But these remains are believed to be a grim by-product of the human-smuggling trade that for years has transported persecuted Rohingya Muslims from Burma, as well as, increasingly, Bangladeshis desperate to escape poverty back home.

For years, desperate individuals have boarded rickety boats to cross the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, then trekked through Thailand’s southern jungles to their ultimate destination: Malaysia. But with the smuggling routes through Thailand into Malaysia disrupted by police investigations, thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshis are thought by the U.N. to be stuck at sea, as traffickers figure out how to salvage their human cargo and captains abandon the boats for fear of the official crackdown.

Around 3,500 Rohingya and Bangladeshis have managed to land in Malaysia and Indonesia in recent weeks, after months at sea. With Southeast Asian governments at first unwilling to take them in, the boats — their holds packed with hundreds of people, like modern-day slave ships — floated between different national waters in what the U.N. described as “human ping pong.” Only last week did the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia officially agree to offer shelter.

For now, the suspected graves in northern Malaysia’s Perlis state are marked with lone branches, the earth covered by a scattering of oversized rainforest leaves. On Tuesday, forensic teams — including one that recently returned from Ukraine, the site of the downed Malaysia Airlines jet — began sifting through the soil to recover bodies. It is a process that forensic analysts gathered at a makeshift police encampment in Wang Kelian, a few kilometers from the hill-top burial grounds, say will take weeks, if not months.

Only one body was discovered above ground. It was found in a wooden holding pen, the lower part wrapped in the sarong that is commonly worn in Burma and parts of Bangladesh. So badly decomposed was the body that forensic investigators removed it from the site in five separate bags.

Malaysia’s suspected burial ground is not the first to be discovered along the porous border with Thailand. Earlier this month, 33 bodies were unearthed in Thailand, less than 500 m from some of the Malaysian suspected graves on the opposite side. Initial police reports indicated that the cause of death for most of the bodies found in Thailand was either starvation or disease. Often, according to TIME interviews with more than 20 Rohingya who have taken the same trafficking route through Thailand into Malaysia, the agreed-upon price for the journey is jettisoned once the victims reach the jungle camps on the border. There, they are essentially held to ransom until family members either back home or in Malaysia pay much higher sums. Food is scarce and beatings common, say survivors.

Shanu binti Abdul Hussain says she, her three small children and her brother-in-law were imprisoned in a camp of the Thai side of the border for 26 days in December before her husband, who was already working in Malaysia’s Penang state, was able to meet a $4,150 ransom. (The family originally was told the voyage would cost one-third the price.) Her husband, Mohamed Rafiq, was given a Malaysian bank account number and sent the money through a cash-deposit machine in Penang. “Waiting after I sent the money was the hardest part,” he says. “I thought, what if the money was too late? What if one of my children has died?”

Since beginning their operation on May 11, Malaysian police have found a network of 28 camps deep in the Perlis jungle, one of which North Brigade police officer Mohd. Salen bin Mohd. Hussain estimates was abandoned just one week before it was discovered. Police believe one camp held 300 people, while others are far smaller. Crude holding pens girded by saplings hint at forced confinement, as does a coil of metal chains. Sentry tree houses poke through the foliage. “I am not surprised by the presence of smuggling syndicates,” Malaysian national police chief Khalid tells TIME. “But the depth of the cruelty, the torture, all this death, that has shocked me.”

This year, Malaysian police say they have arrested 37 people in connection with human smuggling, including two policemen from the state of Penang. In 2014, 66 people were charged in connection with the trade. But for human traffickers to have operated in border areas with such impunity for so many years — no matter how thick the foliage may be — it’s hard to imagine a complete lack of official complicity. Earlier this month, the mayor and deputy mayor of the Thai border town Padang Besar were arrested. Other local officials in Thailand have been detained.

Yet the trade has been going on for years, with the number of Rohingya fleeing Burma (officially known as Myanmar) escalating after Buddhist-Muslim tensions in Rakhine (or Arakan) state exploded in 2012, with the stateless Rohingya bearing the brunt of the violence. Hundreds of this Muslim minority are believed to have died, and around 140,000 have been herded into camps, where disease stalks a vulnerable population. Bereft of their homes and land, many Rohingya see opportunity in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation, no matter how hard the journey. Others allege they were kidnapped onto trafficking boats, as the smugglers struggle to find enough people to fill their holds. The traffickers are also targeting Bangladeshis from across the border with Burma; they, unlike the Rohingya, have little hope of ever gaining refugee status in Southeast Asia.

So far, Malaysian police have been combing a 50-km stretch of the Perlis jungle. What else will be found in the coming days? Locals speak of ghosts up in the hills by the Thai border. “I thought I would die,” says Dilarah, a Rohingya, of her 38-day journey from western Burma, through the camps on the Thai-Malaysian border. She is 6 years old.

TIME Malaysia

Malaysia Finds Graves of Suspected Trafficking Victims

Malaysian National Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar speaks at press conference in Wang Kelian, Malaysia on May 25, 2015
Joshua Paul—AP Malaysian National Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar speaks at press conference in Wang Kelian, Malaysia, on May 25, 2015

This follows similar news of graves found in Thailand

(KUALA LUMPUR) — Malaysian authorities said Sunday that they have discovered a series of graves in at least 17 abandoned camps used by human traffickers on the border with Thailand where Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma have been held.

The finding follows a similar discovery earlier this month by police in Thailand who unearthed dozens of bodies from shallow graves in abandoned camps on the Thai side of the border. The grim discoveries are shedding new light on the hidden network of jungle camps run by traffickers, who have for years held countless desperate people captive while extorting ransoms from their families.

Most of those who have fallen victim to the trafficking networks are refugees and impoverished migrants from Burma and Bangladesh, part of a wave of people who have fled their homelands to reach countries like Malaysia, where they hope to find work or live free from persecution.

As Southeast Asian governments have launched crackdowns amid intensified international pressure and media scrutiny, traffickers have abandoned camps on land and even boats at sea to avoid arrest.

Malaysian Home Minister Zahid Hamidi told reporters that police were trying to identify and verify “mass graves that were found” in the region near the Thai border.

“These graves are believed to be a part of human trafficking activities involving migrants,” he said, adding that police have discovered 17 abandoned camps that they suspect were used by traffickers.

There was no immediate word on how many bodies had been recovered. Zahid said that each grave probably contained anywhere from one to four bodies, and that authorities were in the process of counting.

He said he was shocked at the discoveries, because “just last week, we went there … to see for ourselves.” He said he expected more camps and graves to be found “because they have been there for quite some time … We are still investigating, but I suspect they have been operating for at least five years.”

Local media outlets said the graves were found in two locations in the northern state of Perlis. The state borders southern Thailand’s Songkhla province, where at least 33 bodies were found earlier this month.

According to the Malay-language Utusan Malaysia newspaper, police found 30 large graves containing hundreds of corpses in mid-May in forests around the Perlis towns of Padang Besar and Wang Kelian.

The English-language Star Online said 100 bodies were found in a single grave in Padang Besar. It said police forensics teams had arrived there Friday night to investigate, and the area had been cordoned off.

Human rights groups and activists say the area on the Thai-Malaysia border has been used for years to smuggle migrants and refugees, including Rohingya Muslims, a persecuted minority in Burma.

In many cases, they pay human smugglers thousands of dollars for passage, but are instead held for weeks or months, while traffickers extort more money from families back home. Rights groups say some have been beaten to death, and The Associated Press has documented other cases in which people have been enslaved on fishing boats.

Since May 10 alone, more than 3,600 people — about half of them from Bangladesh and half Rohingya from Burma — have landed ashore in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Thousands more are believed to be trapped at sea in boats abandoned by their captains.

Last June, the U.S. downgraded Thailand and Malaysia to Tier 3 — its lowest category — in an annual assessment of how governments handle human trafficking.

On Saturday in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he has been speaking to regional leaders about the crisis and urging them to find a solution.

Malaysia and Indonesia announced last week that they would provide temporary shelter for up to one year for migrants recently found or still stranded at sea. The U.S. has said it will settle some of them permanently.

Four Malaysian navy ships began searching for boats Friday, but their operation is limited to Malaysia’s territorial waters. The Pentagon said Thursday that Washington was readying air patrols to aid in the search, but a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Bangkok said the offer of assistance was still awaiting clearance.

The Rohingya, numbering around 1.3 million in Burma, have been called one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Long denied basic rights, they have been driven from their homes in mob attacks in Burma’s Arakan (Rakhine) state several times since 2012.

More than 140,000 were displaced and are now living under apartheid-like conditions in crowded camps. More than 100,000 more have fled by sea.

Pitman reported from Bangkok. Associated Press videojournalist Syawalludin Zain contributed to this report.

TIME Malaysia

Malaysia Orders Sea Search and Rescue for Migrants

Newly arrived migrants in Simpang Tiga, Aceh province, Indonesia, May 20, 2015
Binsar Bakkara—AP Newly arrived migrants in Simpang Tiga, Indonesia, on May 20, 2015

Malaysia is taking a proactive role by ordering its navy and coast guard to comb the sea for stranded migrants

(KUALA LUMPUR) — Malaysia’s prime minister said Thursday that he had ordered the navy and the coast guard to comb the sea looking for stranded migrants, the first country to announce it will search for the refugees instead of waiting for them to wash up on Southeast Asia’s shores.

As the region’s migrant crisis enters its fourth week, it remains unclear how many vulnerable people are adrift at sea but aid groups and the U.N. say there could be thousands and time is running out to save them.

In the past three weeks, more than 3,000 people — Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar and Bangladeshis trying to escape poverty — have landed in overcrowded boats on the shores of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Aid groups estimate that thousands more are adrift on vessels without food and water, following a crackdown on human traffickers that prompted captains and smugglers to abandon their boats.

Malaysia initiated a series of talks this week to try to ease the humanitarian crisis, and announced Wednesday that Malaysia and Indonesia will offer temporary shelter to thousands of the incoming migrants. It was seen as a major breakthrough, after weeks of saying the migrants weren’t welcome. But rights groups said the proposal addressed only part of the problem, and urged countries to start actively searching for those stranded at sea.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak addressed the concern via Twitter on Thursday, ordering the navy and coast guard “to conduct search and rescue efforts (for) Rohingya boats. We have to prevent loss of life.”

Meanwhile, the foreign minister of Malaysia was scheduled to visit Myanmar on Thursday to discuss the crisis. The ministry issued a delicately worded statement saying the two would “exchange views on irregular movements of people … in Southeast Asia,” using politically correct language so as not to offend Myanmar — which refuses to shoulder any blame for the crisis or discuss the matter if the word “Rohingya” is mentioned.

The U.N. says the Rohingya are one of the most persecuted groups in the world. Neither Myanmar nor Bangladesh recognizes them as citizens. In Buddhist-majority Myanmar, officials refer to the group as “Bengalis” and insist they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though most have lived in the country for generations.

Over the past few years, Myanmar’s Rohingya have faced increasing state-sanctioned discrimination. They have been targeted by violent mobs of Buddhist extremists and confined to camps. At least 120,000 have fled to sea, and an unknown number have died along the way.

While Indonesia and Malaysia said Wednesday they would temporarily take in some refugees, they also appealed for international help, saying the crisis is a global, not a regional, problem.

“This is not an ASEAN problem,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said Wednesday, referring to the 10-nation grouping of Southeast Asian countries. “This is a problem for the international community.”

Anifah hosted Wednesday’s emergency meeting with the foreign ministers of Indonesia and Thailand, and the three countries issued a joint statement saying Malaysia and Indonesia had “agreed to offer temporary shelter provided that the settlement and repatriation process will be done in one year by the international community.”

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla said his government was ready to shelter Rohingya for one year, while the Bangladeshis would be sent back home. “A year is (the) maximum,” he said. “But there should be international cooperation.”

So far there have been two offers from the international community.

In Washington, the State Department said Thursday the United States was also willing to take in Rohingya refugees as part of international efforts to cope with the crisis. Spokeswoman Marie Harf said that the U.S. is prepared to take a leading role in any multicountry effort, organized by the United Nations refugee agency, to resettle the most vulnerable refugees.

The tiny African country of Gambia has also said it was willing to take in Rohingya refugees. “As human beings, more so fellow Muslims, it is (our) sacred duty to help,” the presidency said in a statement.

The reversal of Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s positions, after weeks of saying the migrants were not welcome, came as more than 430 weak, hungry people were rescued Wednesday — not by navies patrolling the waters but by a flotilla of Indonesian fishermen who brought them ashore in the eastern province of Aceh.

The U.N. refugee agency believes there are 4,000 still at sea, although some activists put the number at 6,000.

The No. 2 U.S. diplomat, currently visiting Southeast Asia, said he will raise the humanitarian crisis of the Rohingya when he meets with senior Myanmar government leaders on Thursday.

“The only sustainable solution to the problem is changing the conditions that let them put their lives at risk at the first place,” Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told reporters in Jakarta.


Gecker contributed reporting from Bangkok, and Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

TIME Burma

U.S. Condemns Burma’s Treatment of Rohingya as Migrant Crisis Intensifies

Nearly 4,000 people remain stranded at sea with dwindling supplies

Washington called on the nations of Southeast Asia to marshal their forces to help thousands of Burmese and Bangladeshi migrants who have been marooned on the high seas for weeks.

UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, warned on Tuesday “that time was running out” for the migrants fleeing sectarian violence in Burma and poverty in neighboring Bangladesh.

“We estimate that nearly 4,000 people from [Burma] and Bangladesh remain stranded at sea with dwindling supplies on board,” Adrian Edwards, a UNHCR spokesman, told journalists in Geneva. “Unconfirmed reports suggest the number could be higher.”

On Wednesday, fishermen from the Indonesian province of Aceh helped rescue more than 430 stranded migrants, many of whom were suffering from dehydration and starvation after spending months on rickety trawlers.

Indonesian, Thai and Malaysian officials held an emergency meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday to address the desperate plight of the migrants, who were abandoned by traffickers following a crackdown on their smuggling networks in Thailand. Following the meeting, both Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to stop pushing boats back to sea and provide temporary shelter to thousands adrift at sea. (Thailand made no such guarantee.)

On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department lambasted Burma, officially called Myanmar, for failing to address the root cause of the crisis, which observers say stems largely from the government’s refusal to recognize the Muslim minority as lawful citizens.

“What needs to change here is that the Rohingya need to feel welcome in the country of their birth, in the country of their parents’ birth, of their grandparents’ birth,” Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor, told CNN during an interview on Tuesday.

“They need to be treated as citizens with dignity and human rights.”

Within Burma, the Rohingya are widely discriminated against by the country’s Buddhist majority and are commonly viewed as interlopers from Bangladesh, despite overwhelming evidence that they’ve lived in the country for generations.

The Burmese government has even refused to discuss the migrant issue with other nations who used the term Rohingya instead of Naypyidaw’s preferred, and racially loaded, term of Bengalis.

“If we recognize the name, then they will think they are citizens of Myanmar … Myanmar cannot take all the blame for these people who are now at sea,” Zaw Htay, a director in the office of Burmese President Thein Sein, told CNN.

The Rohingya were effectively rendered stateless after being stripped of their citizenship by the former ruling junta in 1982 and have been systemically excluded from Burmese society since.

Following a rash of ethnosectarian rioting in 2012, more than 120,000 Rohingya have been forced to reside in squalid displacement camps, bereft of adequate food or medical supplies, which has been instrumental in pushing thousands to flee by boat with the hopes of reaching Malaysia.

In a bulletin published on the front page of the state-backed daily the Global New Light of Myanmar on Wednesday, Burma’s Foreign Ministry promised to begin providing humanitarian assistance to “anyone who suffered in the sea.”

Read next: The Rohingya, Burma’s Forgotten Muslims by James Nachtwey

However, analysts argue that little will change in the long run until Burma and neighboring countries address the systemic conditions that prompt this wretched community to risk their lives at sea rather than live in the country of their birth.

“The governments need to pull Myanmar to the table regardless of whatever excuses they try to come up with,” Lilianne Fan, co-founder of the Indonesia-based Geutanyoe Foundation that works to assist the refugees and migrants in Aceh, tells TIME.

According to the statistics compiled by the International Organization for Migration, more the 88,000 people have made the dangerous voyage across the Bay of Bengal since 2014, including 25,000 who arrived during the first quarter of this year.

At least 1,000 are believed to have died at sea because of “the precarious conditions of the voyage, and an equal number because of mistreatment and privation” wrought by human traffickers.

TIME Malaysia

Malaysia Turns Away Boat With More Than 500 Migrants

Three days after more than a thousand refugees landed in nearby Langkawi island

(LANGKAWI, Malaysia) — Malaysia has turned away a boat with more than 500 Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis after providing them with fuel and provisions, a government official said Thursday.

The boat was found Wednesday off the coast of northern Penang state, just three days after more than a thousand refugees landed in nearby Langkawi island.

Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar said Malaysia cannot afford to have immigrants flooding its shores.

“What do you expect us to do? We have been very nice to the people who broke into our border. We have treated them humanely but they cannot be flooding our shores like this,” he told the Associated Press.

“We have to send the right message that they are not welcome here,” he said.

Thousands of migrants are still believed stranded in the Malacca Strait and surrounding waters, after captains tied to trafficking networks abandoned ships, leaving behind their human cargo.

Indonesia, which has taken 600, also turned a boat away earlier this week. But a foreign ministry spokesman denied Wednesday it had a “push back” policy, saying the Malaysian-bound vessel strayed into its waters by accident.

Wan Junaidi said Southeast Asian governments must do more to press Myanmar to address the Rohingya crisis.

“You talk about democracy but don’t treat your citizens like trash, like criminals until they need to run away to our country,” he said.

Malaysia, which is not a signatory of international conventions on refugees, is host to more than 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers, the majority who are from Myanmar. More than 45,000 of them are Rohingyas, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Southeast Asia, which for years tried to quietly ignore the plight of Myanmar’s 1.3 million Rohingya, now finds itself caught in a spiraling humanitarian crisis that in many ways it helped create.

In the last three years, more than 100,000 members of the Muslim minority have boarded ships, fleeing persecution, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

But no countries want them, fearing that accepting a few would result in an unstoppable flow of poor, uneducated migrants. But governments at the same time respected the wishes of Myanmar at regional gatherings, avoiding discussions of state-sponsored discrimination against the Rohingya.

Denied citizenship by national law, the Muslims are effectively stateless. They have for years faced attacks by the military and extremist Buddhist mobs. They have limited access to education or adequate health care and cannot move around freely.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have worsened the Rohingya crisis “with cold-hearted policies to push back this new wave of boat people that puts thousands of lives at risk.”

“The Thai, Malaysia and Indonesian navies should stop playing a three-way game of human ping pong, and instead should work together to rescue all those on these ill-fated boats,” he said in a statement Thursday.

Increasingly over the years, Rohingya boarding boats in the Bay of Bengal have been joined by neighboring Bangladeshi, most of them seeking an escape from poverty.

For those fleeing, the first stop, until recently, was Thailand, where migrants were held in jungle camps until their families could raise hefty ransoms so they could continue onward. Recent security crackdowns forced the smugglers to change tactics, instead holding people on large ships parked offshore.

Initially they were shuttled to shore in groups on smaller boats after their “ransoms” were paid. But as agents and brokers on land got spooked by arrests — not just of traffickers but also police and politicians — they went into hiding.

That created a bottleneck, with migrants stuck on boats for weeks, even months.

Chris Lewa of the non-profit Arakan Project estimates as many as 6,000 may still be on boats, waiting to find a chance to land or hoping to be rescued. Several international agencies consider her figures to be the most reliable.

In recent days, captains have started abandoning their ships, leaving passengers to fend for themselves, survivors say.

The United Nations has pleaded for countries in the region to keep their arms open and help rescue those stranded. Several navies said they were scouring the seas.

Wan Junaidi said the home ministry will soon call for a meeting with diplomats from Bangladesh and Myanmar, as well as from developed countries, including the United States and the European Union to urge them to take in U.N. refugees in Malaysia waiting to resettle to third countries.

“We want to tell the source countries that they must tell their people back home that Malaysia cannot welcome them,” he said.

“We also want to tell other countries not to blame Malaysia while they just talk to the gallery. Open your doors and take these refugees in. Don’t be selective,” he said.

___

Associated Press writers Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Thanyarat Doksone om Bangkok, Thailand, contributed to this report.

TIME Aviation

MH370 Search Uncovers Shipwreck in Indian Ocean

The Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield is departing Rockingham, Australia for the MH370 search area on May 10, 2014.
Paul Kane—Getty Images The Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield is departing Rockingham, Australia for the MH370 search area on May 10, 2014.

The discovery is "of potential interest, but unlikely to be related to MH370"

The painstaking search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has finally found wreckage on the ocean floor — just not the wreckage it was looking for.

The Australian government, which is coordinating the multi-million-dollar search, announced Wednesday it had found a previously uncharted shipwreck almost 13,000 feet below the surface of the Indian Ocean.

Investigators’ hopes were raised when the Fugro Equator, one of the ships tasked with looking for the aircraft, detected “a cluster of small sonar contacts,” according to an update from the Australian government’s Joint Agency Coordination Center.

Although analysis found these findings were “of potential interest, but…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Malaysia

Malaysia to Push Back Rohingya Unless Boats Are Sinking

A Malaysian Maritime Enforcement agency boat patrols along the coast of Langkawi Island on May 12, 2015.
Manan Vatsyayana—AFP/Getty Images A Malaysian Maritime Enforcement agency boat patrols along the coast of Langkawi Island on May 12, 2015.

Unless they're unseaworthy and sinking

(LANGKAWI, Malaysia) — Abandoned at sea, thousands of Bangladeshis and members of Myanmar’s long-persecuted Rohingya Musilm minority appear to have no place to go after two Southeast Asian nations refused to offer refuge to boatloads of hungry men, women and children.

Smugglers have fled wooden trawlers in recent days amid fear of a massive regional crackdown on human trafficking syndicates, leaving migrants to fend for themselves.

The United Nations pleaded for countries in the region to keep their borders open and help rescue those stranded.

“We won’t let any foreign boats come in,” Tan Kok Kwee, first admiral of Malaysia’s maritime enforcement agency, said Tuesday.

Unless they’re unseaworthy and sinking, he said, the navy will provide “provisions and send them away.”

Hours earlier, Indonesia pushed back a boat packed with hundreds of Rohingya and Bangladeshis, saying they were given food, water and directions to Malaysia — their original destination.

Southeast Asia is in the grips of a spiraling humanitarian crisis, with about 1,600 migrants landing on the shores of the two Muslim-majority countries that over the years have shown the most sympathy for the Rohingya’s plight.

With thousands more believed to be in the busy Malacca Strait and nearby waters – some stranded for more than two months – activists believe many more boats will try to make land in coming days and weeks.

One boat begged Tuesday to be rescued of Malaysia’s Langkawi island, but it became clear by nightfall no help was on the way. One activist said she could hear the children crying when she got a call through to the boat.

Labeled by the U.N. one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, the Rohingya have for decades suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Denied citizenship by national law, the Muslims are effectively stateless. Access to education and adequate health care is limited and freedom of movement severely restricted.

In the last three years, attacks on Rohingya have left 280 people dead and forced 140,000 others into crowded camps just outside Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, where they live under abysmal, apartheid-like conditions, with little or no opportunity for work.

That has sparked one of the biggest exoduses of boat people the region has seen since the Vietnam War, an estimated 100,000 men, women and children boarding ships in search of better lives in other countries since June 2012, according to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees.

The first stop, up until recently, was Thailand, where migrants were held in jungle camps until their families could raise hefty “ransoms’ so they could continue onward, usually to Malaysia. Recent crackdowns, however, have forced the smugglers to change tactics — instead holding people on small and large ships parked offshore until they collected about $2,000.

Struggling to put a positive face on its dismal human trafficking record, Thai authorities have discovered more than 70 former camps near its border with Malaysia, the biggest of which was found Tuesday. It appeared to be newly abandoned, well-constructed and able to house as many as 800 people, said Lt. Gen. Prakarn Chonlayuth, the southern regional army commander.

Dozens of graves also have been excavated, the victims believed to be Rohingya or Bangladeshi.

Spooked, agents and brokers have all but stopped bringing their human cargo to shore. And in the last three or four days, captains and smugglers have fled their ships, some jumping into speedboats, leaving migrants will no fuel, food or drinking water, survivors told The Associated Press.

In some cases, the Rohingya or Bangladeshis have succeeded in commandeering boats, bringing them as close to land as possible and then swimming the rest of the way.

On Tuesday, a boat was stranded not far from Malaysia’s Langkawi island, with hundreds of desperate Rohingya, about 50 of them women, said Chris Lewa, director of the non-profit Arakan Project.

They told her by phone that their captain had fled days ago, and that they needed to be rescued.

Soon after, she heard cheers, and people on board spotted a white vessel with flashing lights. When they realized authorities weren’t there to help, however, women started to scream.

“Oh! I could hear children crying!,” she told AP. “It was terrible! I can hear them.”

A former U.S. Congressman urged the American government to step in.

“Immediate action is needed to rescue thousands of Rohingya before the Andaman Sea becomes a floating mass grave,” said Tom Andrews, who recently returned from Myanmar and Malaysia, where he met with families of fleeing Rohingya.

Addressing the source of the crisis — the systematic government abuse and persecution of the Rohingya — is also crucial, he said in a statement.

Tan, of the Malaysia’s maritime enforcement agency, meanwhile, said the waters around Langkawi would be patrolled 24 hours a day by eight ships.

More than 1,100 migrants have landed on the island since Sunday, the country’s Home Ministry said in a statement. Of those, 486 were Myanmar citizens and 682 Bangladeshis. There were 993 men, it said, 104 women and 61 children.

For now, survivors on the island were being held in two separate holding centers, women and children in the sports hall and the men in another facility. But they would soon be transferred to a detention center on the Malaysian mainland.

Fifteen-year-old Hasana was standing with another girl outside her temporary quarters.

She said she was an orphan, having lost both her parents when she was young, and that she told her grandmother she didn’t see a life for herself in Myanmar, where it was a struggle just to get enough food to eat. The teen said she had decided to join a group of friends who wanted to go to Malaysia.

She paid $200 for what turned out to be a harrowing journey by boat, she said, describing how one man was savagely attacked just for asking for food.

Looking around her at the chaos, she now worriedly asked: “Am I going to be sent back?”

TIME indonesia

Up to 6,000 Rohingya, Bangladeshi Migrants Stranded At Sea

Illegal immigrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh arrive at the Langkawi police station's multi purpose hall in Langkawi, Malaysia on May 11, 2015
Hamzah Osman—AP Illegal immigrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh arrive at the Langkawi police station's multi purpose hall in Langkawi, Malaysia on May 11, 2015

They remain trapped in crowded, wooden boats without food or clean water

(JAKARTA) — Hundreds of migrants abandoned at sea by smugglers in Southeast Asia have reached land and relative safety in the past two days. But an estimated 6,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims from Burma remain trapped in crowded, wooden boats, migrant officials and activists said. With food and clean water running low, some could be in grave danger.

One vessel that reached Indonesian waters early Monday, was stopped by the Navy and given food, water and directions to Malaysia.

Worried that boats will start washing to shore with dead bodies, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the United States and several other foreign governments and international organizations have held emergency meetings, but participants say there are no immediate plans to search for vessels in the busy Malacca Strait.

One of the concerns is what to do with the Rohingya if a rescue is launched. The minority group is denied citizenship in Burma, and other countries have long worried that opening their doors to a few would result in an unstemmable flow of poor, uneducated migrants.

“These are people in desperate straits,” said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch in Bangkok, calling on governments to band together to help those still stranded at sea, some for two months or longer. “Time is not on their side.”

The Rohingya, who are Muslim, have for decades suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination in Buddhist-majority Burma, which considers them illegal settlers from Bangladesh even though their families have lived there for generations.

Attacks on members of the religious minority, numbering at around 1.3 million, have in the past three years left up to 280 people dead and forced 140,000 others from their homes. They now live under apartheid-like conditions in crowded camps just outside the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe, where they have little access to school or adequate health care.

The conditions at home — and lack of job opportunities — have sparked one of the biggest exoduses of boat people since the Vietnam War.

Chris Lewa, director of the non-profit Arakan Project, which has been monitoring boat departures and arrivals for more than a decade, estimates more than 100,000 men, women and children have boarded ships since mid-2012.

Most are trying to reach Malaysia, but recent regional crackdowns on human trafficking networks have sent brokers and agents into hiding, making it impossible for migrants to disembark — in some cases even after family members have paid $2,000 or more for their release, she said.

Lewa believes up to 6,000 Rohingya and Bangaldeshis are still on small and large boats in the Malacca Strait and nearby international waters.

Tightly confined, and with limited access to food and clean water, their health is deteriorating, she said, adding that dozens of deaths have been reported.

“I’m very concerned about smugglers abandoning boatloads at sea,” said Lewa.

In the last two days, 1,600 Rohingya have washed to shore in two Southeast Asian countries.

After four boats carrying nearly 600 people successfully landed in western Indonesia, with some migrants jumping into the water and swimming, a fifth carrying hundreds more was turned away early Monday.

Indonesia’s Navy spokesman, First Adm. Manahan Simorangkir , said they were trying to go to Malaysia but got thrown off course.

“We didn’t intend to prevent them from entering our territory, but because their destination country was not Indonesia, we asked them to continue to the country where they actually want to go,” he said.

Those who made it to shore aboard the other boats on Sunday were taken to a sports stadium in Lhoksukon, the capital of North Aceh District, to be cared for and questioned, said Lt. Col. Achmadi, chief of police in the area, who uses only one name.

Some were getting medical attention.

“We had nothing to eat,” said Rashid Ahmed, a 43-year-old Rohingya man who was on one of the boats. He said he left Burma’s troubled state of Rakhine with his eldest son three months ago.

A Bangladeshi man, Mohamed Malik, said he felt uncertain about being stranded in Aceh, but also relieved. “Relieved to be here because we receive food, medicine. It’s altogether a relief,” the man said.

Police also found a big wooden ship late Sunday night trapped in the sand in shallow waters at a beach of Langkawi, an island off Malaysia, and have since located 865 men, 101 women and 52 children, said Jamil Ahmed, the area’s deputy police chief. He added many appeared weak and thin and that at least two other boats have not been found.

“We believe there may be more boats coming,” Jamil said.

Thailand has long been considered a regional hub for human traffickers.

The tactics of brokers and agents started changing in November as authorities began tightening security on land — a move apparently aimed at appeasing the U.S. government as it prepares to release its annual Trafficking in Persons report next month. Last year, Thailand was downgraded to the lowest level, putting it on par with North Korea and Syria.

Rohingya packing into ships in the Bay of Bengal have been joined in growing numbers by Bangladeshis fleeing poverty and hoping to find a better life elsewhere.

Up until recently, their first stop was Thailand, where they were held in open pens in jungle camps as brokers collected “ransoms” from relatives. Those who could pay continued onward, usually to Malaysia or other countries. Those who couldn’t were sometimes beaten, killed or left to die.

Since May 1, police have unearthed two dozen bodies from shallow graves in the mountains of southern Thailand, the apparent victims of smuggling rings, they say.

Thai authorities have since arrested dozens of people, including a powerful mayor and a man named Soe Naing, otherwise known as Anwar, who was accused of being one of the trafficking kingpins in southern Thailand. More than 50 police officers are also under investigation.

Spooked by the arrests, smugglers are abandoning ships, sometimes disappearing in speedboats, with rudimentary instructions to passengers as to which way to go.

Vivian Tan, the U.N. refugee agency’s regional press officer in Bangkok, Thailand said there is real sense of urgency from the international community.

“At this point, I’m not sure what the concrete next steps are or should be,” she said of a string of meetings with diplomats and international organizations. “But there doesn’t seem to be a clear mechanism in this region for responding to something like this.”

McDowell reported from Yangon, Burma; Associated Press writers Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Ali Kotarumalos and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

TIME Malaysia

Police: 1,600 Rohingyas, Others Land in Indonesia and Malaysia

"We believe there may be more boats coming," said island deputy police chief Jamil Ahmed

(KUALA LUMPUR) — About 1,600 Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees have landed in Malaysia and Indonesia in the past day, apparently after human traffickers abandoned their virtual floating prison ships and left the passengers to fend for themselves, officials said Monday.

One group of about 600 people arrived in the Indonesian coastal province of Aceh on four boats Sunday, the same day a total of 1,018 landed in three boats on Malyasia’s northern resort island of Langkawi.

Rohingya Muslims have for decades suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination in Buddhist-majority Burma, which considers them illegal settlers from Bangladesh. Attacks on the Rohingya by Buddhist mobs in the last three years have sparked an exodus by sea to nearby countries.

Police found a wooden boat late Sunday night trapped in the sand in shallow waters at a beach in Langkawi that was capable of holding 350 people, said island deputy police chief Jamil Ahmed. Since 865 men, 52 children and 101 women have been counted since then, he said at least two other boats have not been located yet.

Jamil said a Bangladeshi man told police that the boat handlers gave the passengers directions on where to go once they reached Malaysian shores, and escaped in other boats. The migrant said they have not eaten for three days, Jamil said, adding that most of them were weak and thin.

“We believe there may be more boats coming,” Jamil said.

When the four ships neared Indonesia’s shores early Sunday, some passengers jumped into the water and swam, said Steve Hamilton, of the International Organization for Migration in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital.

They have been taken to a sports stadium in Lhoksukon, the capital of North Aceh District, to be cared for and questioned, said Lt. Col. Achmadi, chief of police in the area, who uses only one name.

Sick and weak after more than two months at sea, some were given medical attention.

“We had nothing to eat,” said Rashid Ahmed, a 43-year-old Rohingya man who was on one of the boats. He said he left Burma’s troubled state of Rakhine with his eldest son three months ago.

An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people are now being held in large and small ships in the Malacca Strait and nearby international waters, said Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, which has monitored the movements of Rohingya for more than a decade. She added that crackdowns on trafficking syndicates in Thailand and Malaysia have prevented brokers from bringing them to shore.

Some are held even after family members pay for them to be released from the boats.

“I am very concerned about smugglers abandoning boatloads at sea,” Lewa said, noting that some people have been stranded for more than two months.

Tightly confined, and with limited access to food and clean water, their health is deteriorating, Lewa said, adding that dozens of deaths have been reported.

Thailand has long been considered a regional hub for human traffickers.

The tactics of brokers and agents started changing in November as authorities began to tighten security on land — a move apparently aimed at appeasing the U.S. government before it releases an annual trafficking report next month. Last year, Thailand was downgraded to the lowest level, putting it on par with North Korea and Syria.

Rohingya packing into ships in the Bay of Bengal have been joined in growing numbers by Bangladeshis fleeing poverty and hoping to find a better life elsewhere.

Up until recently, their first stop was Thailand, where they were held in open pens in jungle camps as brokers collected “ransoms” of $2,000 or more from family and friends. Those who could pay continued onward, usually to Malaysia or other countries. Those who couldn’t were sometimes beaten, killed or left to die.

Since May 1, police have unearthed two dozen bodies from shallow graves in the mountains of southern Thailand, the apparent victims, they say, of smuggling rings.

Thai authorities have since arrested dozens of people, including a powerful mayor and a man named, Soe Naing, otherwise known as Anwar, who was accused of being one of the trafficking kingpins in southern Thailand. More than 50 police officers are also under investigation.


Associated Press writers Robin McDowell in Yangon, Burma, and Margie Mason and Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

TIME viral

Watch Driving Instructors Get Pranked By a Pro Racer

They think she doesn't know how to drive

Driving tests are supposed to be nerve-racking for new students, but one Malaysian driving school flipped the script and absolutely terrified their rookie instructors.

To prank employees on their first day of work, the school hired Leona Chin, a professional rally-racing driver, to be the unlucky tutors’ first pupil.

Chin, dressed up in a nerdy-looking outfit, spends the first half of the video pretending she’s a hopeless learner. Then, just as instructors are getting frustrated, Chin reveals her true talents—and the reactions are priceless.

“The 3 employees you saw at the end loved it and laughed it off, but the guy in the blue shirt was not too happy. That’s why we didn’t have footage of him smiling,” Izmir Mujab, CEO of the media company behind the video, told TIME.

Read next: Watch Mariah Carey Kill at Car Karaoke on The Late Late Show

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com