Photos: Malaysia Begins Exhuming Mass Graves, Combing Through Suspected Trafficking Camps

Photos: Malaysia Begins Exhuming Mass Graves, Combing Through Suspected Trafficking Camps Damir Sagolj/Reuters

On Sunday, Malaysia's home minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced the discovery of mass graves and camps suspected to have been used for human trafficking near the country's border with Thailand. The national police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, confirmed the news at a press conference on Monday: Authorities found 139 grave sites and 28 camps in the region. They originally estimated 100 dead but now expect the number to be significantly higher.

"[Authorities] found 139 suspected graves. They are not sure how many bodies are inside each grave," Khalid said. "It's a very sad scene.… To us even one is serious," he said. "We are working closely with our counterparts in Thailand. We will find the people who did this."

Although the bodies haven't been identified, The Guardian reports that the region of jungle and rough terrain where the graves and camps were found is often used smuggle Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants to southeast Asia.

The discovery comes in the midst of a migrant crisis, with boats holding thousands of migrants fleeing Myanmar and Bangladesh. After initially turning away 7,000 migrants who had been stranded at sea for weeks, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed last week to take them in for temporary shelter. Though Thailand did not do the same, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Monday that he had ordered the Thai navy to set up a floating command center and help those in medical need.

Malaysian police and a forensic team have begun the process of going through the camps and exhuming and studying the remains from the grave sites.

"We were shocked by the cruelty," Khalid said, explaining that there were signs of torture in the camp sites. Officials believe some of the camps were inhabited until as recently as two weeks ago, judging by the food and cooking utensils found near them.

A Malaysian police stands guard near an abandoned human trafficking camp in the jungles near Thailand's border.Damir Sagolj/Reuters
A Royal Malaysian Police forensic team handles exhumed human remains. Police said on May 25 that they'd found 139 grave sites and 28 abandoned detention camps used by smugglers. Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty
A child's hat left behind near the abandoned human trafficking camp. Malaysian police forensic teams began exhuming the buried bodies of dozens of suspected victims of human traffickers.Damir Sagolj/Reuters
The discovery of the mass graves is the latest reminder of the grim extent of the region's migrant crisis.Damir Sagolj/Reuters
A human jawbone is seen at a grave site near a migrant camp. Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty
Policemen monitor as forensic experts dig out human remains. The Malaysian government said it was investigating whether local forestry officials were involved with the people-smuggling gangs believed responsible for the graves discovered around camps along the Thai border.Damir Sagolj/Reuters
An armed Royal Malaysian Police stands guard. The discoveries in Malaysia followed the uncovering of similar graves on the Thai side of the border at the beginning of May, which helped trigger a regional crisis. The find led to a crackdown on the camps by Thai authorities, after which traffickers abandoned thousands of migrants in overloaded boats in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty