Nearly 2,000 boat people including Rohingya rescued in SE Asia

Nearly 2,000 boat people including Rohingya rescued in SE Asia

Nearly 2,000 boat people including Rohingya rescued in SE Asia

Nearly 2,000 boat people from Myanmar and Bangladesh have been rescued or swum to shore in Malaysia and Indonesia, authorities said today, warning that still more desperate migrants could be in peril at sea.

The spate of arrivals comes as Thailand, a key stop on a Southeast Asian people-smuggling route, cracks down following the discovery of mass graves that has laid bare the extent of the thriving trade.

Thousands of impoverished Muslim Rohingya -- a minority unwanted by Myanmar's government -- and Bangladeshis brave a perilous sea and land trafficking route through Thailand and into Malaysia, Indonesia and beyond every year.

Malaysian police said people-smugglers had dumped at least 1,018 hungry migrants in shallow waters off the coast of the resort island of Langkawi since yesterday.

One boat was still stuck on a breakwater offshore but the others are believed to have fled to sea.

"We know that there are more boats out there that want to come in," Langkawi police chief Haritth Kam Abdullah told AFP, citing police intelligence.

Indonesian authorities said they intercepted a boat off the coast of the northwestern province of Aceh early today with estimates of at last 400 people aboard, a day after 573 people described by one official as "sad, tired and distressed" came to shore in Aceh.

At least 92 children were among those brought ashore in Malaysia and Indonesia.

The vessel discovered off Indonesia on Monday was still at sea, shadowed by the country's navy, said naval spokesman Manahan Simorangkir.

He said the vessel was damaged but afloat, and its captain had fled. The navy was supplying the ship with water and food but the spokesman said there were currently no plans to allow it to berth.

Aceh provincial search and rescue chief Budiawan, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told AFP authorities were bracing for further arrivals.

"We are on standby and ready to rescue them when we receive an alert," Budiawan said.

Abdul Rahim, a 25-year-old Bangladeshi who swam ashore yesterday on Langkawi, told AFP he endured a 28-day journey on a ship operated by Myanmar smugglers and packed with hundreds of other people amid appalling conditions.

He was among about 300 Bangladeshi men who were being fed and tended to at a police detention centre badminton court, most of them shirtless and looking thin, weak and haggard.

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