24 May 2015, KUALA LUMPUR (TSR-Anadolu) – Malaysia’s home ministry confirmed Sunday the discovery of a mass graves near 17 human trafficking camps, after dozens of bodies were found on the Thai side of the border earlier this month.
Minister Zahid Hamidi expressed his shock to reporters, saying the camps in the border town of Padang Besar, northern Perlis state, may have been in the area for five years.
“A grave maybe has three, four bodies. But we don’t know how many there are. We are probably going to find more bodies,” The Star Online quoted him as saying.
He added that security forces, who had found the camps in Wang Kelian and several small villages in an abandoned condition, had undertaken the process of identification and verification.
The Star had earlier cited unnamed sources as saying police forensic vehicles were seen returning from Padang Besar as commando and forensic teams arrived late Friday to the site – believed to hold the remains of around 100 migrants including Muslim Rohingya and Bangladeshis.
While the exact location of the grave had not been confirmed, an unnamed officer at the town’s police headquarters said the site was a restricted area blocked off to civilians. He added that it “has been cordoned off and it is located at a hilly site.”
Hamaidi said Sunday that little doubt remained about the involvement of Malaysian nationals in trafficking in the area following the finding.
“Malaysia as a government is not involved. But Malaysians, yes! I recognize that as a fact,” he added.
National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar is expected to hold a press conference Monday.
Earlier this month, the bodies of more than 30 migrants were discovered in southern Thailand, prompting a crackdown that led to smugglers fleeing and boatloads of the migrants then turning up on Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian shores, while many more remained at sea.
Malaysia had previously denied allegations that some of its nationals were linked to the human trafficking syndicate behind the mass graves discovered in Thailand.
Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar had told Anadolu Agency that there had “as yet” been no evidence to indicate such involvement.
Last year, both Malaysia and Thailand were downgraded to Tier 3 status in the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report for not complying with the “minimum standards” to deal with human trafficking.
Since the Thai crackdown, an estimate 4,000 Rohingya – who have fled Myanmar in droves since 2012 – and Bangladeshis have been stranded with little access to food or water after Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand declared they would not allow migrant boats to land on their shores.
Last week, Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to offer temporary shelter to Rohingya migrants – but only if the international community agrees to then resettle them after one year. Both countries, however, said Bangladeshis from stranded boats would be returned to their country.
On Thursday, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman held a meeting in Naypyitaw with his Myanmar counterpart, who expressed Myanmar’s willingness to give its full cooperation in resolving the boat people crisis in Southeast Asia.
Myanmar has been under pressure to help stem the flood of migrants who have been attempting to land on shores across the region. The country does not recognize the Rohingya, preferring to refer to them as Bengali, which suggests they are from neighboring Bangladesh.
Rohingya – who the United Nations consider to be the world’s most persecuted ethnic minority – have been fleeing in fear of violence that some human rights groups consider to be state-sponsored.