Fifty-nine Rohingyas found on Thai island

Probably abandoned by traffickers en route to Malaysia, 59 Rohingyas, including five children, have been discovered on a Thai island, a police officer said on Sunday.

The group was discovered on the island of Koh Dong in the southern province of Satun on Saturday, Lt. Gen. Surachet Hakpan said.

Persecuted in Burma

Every year, thousands of Rohingyas, a predominantly Muslim minority, heavily persecuted in Burma, a predominantly Buddhist country, risk their lives in expensive journeys lasting several months to reach Malaysia by crossing the seas of Thailand. Police said they had been charged with entering the territory illegally and could be deported to Burma following legal proceedings.

“We are providing humanitarian aid and we will investigate whether they are victims of human trafficking or whether they entered illegally,” Surachet Hakpan said. The group appeared “starved and had probably not eaten anything for three to five days”, according to a police statement.

Two boats stopped

Members of the group told officers their boat was one of three boats carrying 178 people that left Burma and Bangladesh, after paying an officer about 5,000 ringgit ($1,200) for the trip. The first two boats carrying 119 people were detained by Malaysian authorities, according to the Thai police statement.

The boat’s crew then decided to abandon those on board on Koh Dong Island, telling them they had reached Malaysia, the group told police. The incident comes after the bodies of 14 Rohingyas, including children, were found last month washed up on a beach after trying to flee Burma. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled a military crackdown there in 2017.

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Muslim-majority Malaysia is a key destination for Rohingyas fleeing persecution in Burma or refugee camps in Bangladesh.

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