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Malaysian authorities have confirmed they've discovered almost 140 graves in a series of abandoned camps used by human traffickers on the border with Thailand. -

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MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Malaysian authorities have confirmed they've discovered almost 140 graves in a series of abandoned camps used by human traffickers on the border with Thailand. The camps are where Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar are believed to have been held.

The International Organisation for Migration has warned the scale of this latest discovery lays bare the grim extent of the region's migrant crisis.

Mandie Sami reports.

MANDIE SAMI: The dense jungles of southern Thailand and northern Malaysia have been a major route for smugglers bringing people to South-East Asia by boat from Myanmar. Most of those who make the journey are believed to be Rohingya Muslims who claim to be fleeing persecution.

Earlier this month Thai police said they'd found five secret jungle camps and 35 bodies on their side of the border.

Malaysia's national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar says this latest discovery dwarfs that. He says it remains unclear how many bodies lie in the 139 pits. They're located in a remote area of mountainous jungle along the Thai border.

KHALID ABU BAKAR: We have discovered 139 which we believe to be graves. We don't know what are underneath. The first team has gone in this morning, our forensic and medical team, to exhume whatever remains there.

MANDIE SAMI: So far police haven't provided any details on what caused the deaths.

Jeffrey Labovitz heads Thailand's International Organisation for Migration.

He says thousands of Rohingya Muslims are ferried by traffickers through southern Thailand each year and in recent years it has been common for them to be held in remote camps along the border with Malaysia until a ransom is paid for their freedom.

He says many of them become sick while being held in jungle camps.

JEFFREY LABOVITZ: They never imagined this was going to happen. They can no longer walk, they can no longer sustain their own weight. They have something called beriberi which is a vitamin deficiency caused by extreme deprivation, no food, lack of nutrients, not being able to move for a sustained period of time.

These people were examples to others that if you did not pay, you were going to die. They were tortured, not fed, and contained, and they died.

MANDIE SAMI: So are you saying that was intentionally inflicted on them by the people who they paid to smuggle them in the first place?

JEFFREY LABOVITZ: Absolutely. And it's about the saddest thing that could happen to anyone.

MANDIE SAMI: Most of Myanmar's 1.1 million Rohingya are stateless. They're denied citizenship and have long complained of state-sanctioned discrimination - something Myanmar denies.

Mr Labovitz says he hopes the discovery of these mass graves will motivate Myanmar and its neighbours to boost humanitarian efforts and address the root of the migrant problem.

JEFFREY LABOVITZ: They need to stop it, they need to investigate and close down the smuggling boats and these smugglers' camps and these torture chambers where people were processed for money.

I think it can be sustained, I really do. I think it's sustained through joint cooperation and investigation and law enforcement and I think it needs to happen because we can't let this resurface again.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Jeffrey Labovitz from Thailand's International Organisation for Migration ending Mandie Sami's report.