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Malaysian Police Discover 139 Graves; May Contain Migrants' Remains

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And there are more tales of misery emerging from Southeast Asia this morning. Migrants mainly from the Rohingya Muslim minority have been fleeing Myanmar and Bangladesh. They're often transported by human traffickers. And now, police in Malaysia say they've discovered more than a hundred graves believed to contain the remains of migrants. Thousands more are believed adrift at sea. From Thailand, Michael Sullivan has more.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: It's a very sad scene, national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters at a checkpoint not far from the camps where the graves were found, adding that there were signs of torture and that some of the graves may contain not one body but many. Malaysian media reported over the weekend that a hundred bodies were found in a single grave just across the border from neighboring Thailand where the discovery of more than two dozen graves in an abandoned camp early this month prompted a crackdown on traffickers that led many to abandon not just the camps but thousands of migrants onboard rickety boats in the Andaman Sea.

Malaysia and Indonesia last week said they would provide temporary shelter to those on board but just for a year until they were resettled elsewhere and only if they made it to shore. Since that announcement, none have, and no boats have been found by Indonesian or Malaysian patrols either. Phil Robertson is deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. He thinks there's a reason for that.

PHIL ROBERTSON: I think that nobody has been searching very hard because you keep what you find, and none of these countries are very eager to have more Rohingya and Bengali boat people on their shores. They've signed up to the idea of not pushing them back, but they haven't taken the next step to say, well, we actually want to go and find them and bring them to our country.

SULLIVAN: And that's a problem for those onboard the boats. And it gets worse.

The monsoon has started in Southeast Asia, and while the torrential rains and high winds might deter additional boats from making the journey, it's only added more misery to those already at sea. Human rights groups warn more will die if those on board, already short of food, fuel and water, aren't rescued soon. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Chiang Rai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.