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  • Local law enforcement believe that the discovery had a connection to mass graves found on the Thai side of the border earlier this month.

    Local law enforcement believe that the discovery had a connection to mass graves found on the Thai side of the border earlier this month. | Photo: AFP

Published 26 May 2015

Migrants were held captive in camps where they were subjected to torture if their families did not pay a ransom for their release. 

Police forensic teams started digging and pulling out bodies from mass graves Tuesday after they were found in the Malaysian jungle earlier this week. The 140 reported graves are believed to contain bodies of hundreds of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh.

"Probably, one grave has maybe three, four bodies or maybe only one. So we are counting at the moment,” Zahid Hamidi, Malaysia’s home minister told news outlet Bernama. “We are probably going to find more bodies … These graves are believed to be a part of human trafficking activities involving migrants.”

The 139 graves found on Monday are located across 28 human trafficking camps used to imprison migrants, most of them Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution, and Bangladeshi workers. Police reported captives were held there until a ransom was paid for their release.

"If an individual's family did not pay, those staying long in the camps were tortured, beaten and deprived of food," Joel Millman, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration said in a news briefing. Reuters confirmed migrants were subjected to torture when finding barbed-wired cages at the campsites on Tuesday.

Abdul Rahman Mahmud, a hostel owner from the area, told Reuters migrants were frequently seen “starving, not eaten for weeks (…) They eat seeds or leaves or whatever they can find.”

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The tents are believed to have been operational for at least five years and were found abandoned when authorities arrived to the site, Hamidi said according to Bernama.

The police has started an investigation to find possible collaborative links between forestry enforcement officers and international human trafficking organizations. Initial findings reveal the rangers were indeed complicit in the mass graves found on Monday, Bernama reported.

In recent weeks, several South East Asian countries including Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia have turned away boats carrying thousands of migrants fleeing their respective countries. Malaysia is on a route used by smugglers bringing people to Southeast Asia by boat from Myanmar. Local law enforcement believe that the discovery had a connection to mass graves found on the Thai side of the border earlier this month. Some 920 migrants, most of them from Myanmar and Bangladesh, are believed to have perished in the Bay of Bengal between September 2014 and March this year.

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