- The group, which included five children, was discovered on the island of Koh Dong
- Police say they were charged with illegality
- The incident comes after the bodies of 14 Rohingyas, including children
Fifty-nine Rohingyas have been discovered on a Thai island after being abandoned by traffickers en route to Malaysia, a senior police officer said on Sunday.
The group, which included five children, was discovered on Saturday on Koh Dong Island in the southern province of Satun, according to Lt. Gen. Surachet Hakpan.
Every year, thousands of mostly Muslim Rohingya fleeing persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar risk their lives on costly month-long journeys across Thai seas to reach Malaysia.
Police said they had been charged with illegal entry and faced deportation to Myanmar following a court case.
“We are providing humanitarian assistance and will investigate whether they are victims of human trafficking or entered illegally,” Surachet said.
The group appeared “starving and likely hadn’t had food for three to five days,” according to a police statement.
Members of the group told officers their boat was one of three ships carrying 178 people that left Myanmar and Bangladesh, after paying an officer about 5,000 ringgits ($1,300) for the trip.
Read more: Hundreds of Rohingya escape detention in Malaysia, six dead
The first two boats carrying 119 people were stopped and 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 officers.
The incident comes after the bodies of 14 Rohingyas, including children, were discovered washed up on a beach last month after trying to flee Myanmar.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled a military crackdown in the country in 2017, bringing with them harrowing stories of murder, rape and arson.
Those still in Myanmar are widely seen as trespassers from Bangladesh and are largely denied citizenship, many rights, and access to health care and education.
Muslim-majority Malaysia is a key destination for Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar or refugee camps in Bangladesh.
After their ship was wrecked on an island off Satun province in 2019, a Thai boat captain was accused of smuggling 65 Rohingya from Myanmar.
The same area was the hub of a multi-million dollar smuggling route that came to light in 2015 following the discovery of mass graves of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants along the Malaysian border.
Read more: Rohingya children have few options FOR education as Bangladesh closes illegal school