LANGSA, Indonesia (AP) — More than 2,000 desperate members of Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya community fleeing persecution and Bangladeshis trying to escape poverty have landed on the shores of Indonesia’s Aceh province in recent weeks, as well as in neighboring Malaysia.
Thousands more are still believed to be stranded at sea, with Southeast Asian nations unwilling to accept them amid an escalating humanitarian crisis.
Many of the migrants have described killings, extortion and near-starvation after a long, harrowing journey.
Most of those reaching Indonesia were crammed onto three boats that Indonesian fishermen towed ashore in the Aceh city of Langsa.
“If I had known that the boat journey would be so horrendous, I would rather have just died in Myanmar,” said Manu Abudul Salam, 19, a Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where three years of attacks against the long-persecuted Muslim minority have sparked the region’s largest exodus of boat people since the Vietnam War.
The vessel was at sea when authorities around the region began cracking down on human trafficking two weeks ago.
Aid groups and rights workers have warned that the crackdown prompted some captains and smugglers to abandon their ships and leave the migrants to fend for themselves — a claim that was corroborated by survivors who came ashore Friday.
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