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Hundreds of refugees land in Indonesia, Malaysia

Around 1,600 people fleeing persecution in Myanmar and Bangladesh have arrived, weak and hungry, in Malaysia and Indonesia. The Rohingya have increasingly become the target of violence by Buddhist extremists.

Boats carrying nearly 1,600 Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees have washed up on the shores of Indonesia and Malaysia after traffickers abandoned the ships and left their prisoners to fend for themselves, Malaysian officials said Monday, warning that many more desperate migrants could be in danger at sea.

After a group of around

600 people arrived in the coastal Indonesian province of Aceh on Sunday

, a further 1,018 landed on the resort island of Langkawi in northern Malaysia. The island's deputy police chief, Jamil Ahmed, told the Associated Press that the group picked up on Langkawi included 865 men, 101 women and 52 children.

The refugees said they had not eaten for three days, and Jamil reported that most of them were thin and very weak. The migrants told him that their human traffickers instructed them where to go once the ship reached Malaysia before escaping in other boats.

"We believe there may be more boats coming," Jamil said.

Fleeing persecution at home

The Muslim Rohingya have long been persecuted in their home of Myanmar, where the government considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refuses to grant them citizenship. Facing an increased threat of violence from Buddhist mobs in the past three years, many Myanmar Rohinghya have fled for neighboring countries; many are even willing to take the risky sea journey on people traffickers' boats.

The UN refugee agency estimated that 25,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants boarded smugglers' boats in the first three months of 2015, double the amount for the same time period in 2014.

When four ships reached Indonesia on Sunday, many were in dire need of medical attention after two tightly confined months at sea. They were temporarily being housed at a sports complex in Lhoksukon, the capital of the North Aceh District.

There are an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people being held in similar ships in international waters, according to the monitoring organization Arakan Project,

as crackdowns on trafficking syndicates

in Thailand and Malaysia have prevented smugglers from bringing people ashore.

es/msh (AP, Reuters)

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