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Over the last month, dozens of bodies have washed ashore in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine, according to a local advocacy group. Some bodies were so bloated and decomposed that they could not identified.
It's believed the dead are members of the persecuted Rohingya ethnic minority in Myanmar, and Bangladeshis, who tried to escape boats which were abandoned by human smugglers after Thailand launched a crackdown on the trade.
According to the Arakan Project, which has been monitoring the situation in Rakhine for over a decade, at least 47 bodies were located on beaches and river mouths between May 12 and 24. Arkan spokesperson Chris Lewa said the people likely drowned while attempting to swim to shore.
Local villagers contacted by the Associated Press gave similar reports.
Tens of thousands of people attempt to flee poverty and persecution in Myanmar and Bangladesh into neighboring countries each year
Rohingya Muslims have been fleeing violence and persecution in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, for years. Together with Bangladeshis tens of thousands of people attempt to flee to neighboring countries every year, contributing to a broadening humanitarian crisis across Southeast Asia.
In early May, Thailand began a mass crackdown on human smuggling and trafficking, which led to captains of ships carrying migrants to abandon boatloads of people at sea.
Other captains steered their ships into the Bay of Bengal, hoping to wait out the government clampdowns. Conditions on numerous boats deteriorated, and those on board were given little to eat. Some passengers escaped, while others paid hundreds of dollars to secure their own release, via fishing boat.
More than 4,600 trapped and sometimes starving boat people have so far been rescued, around half of them Rohingya.
Myanmar formally denies the existence of the Rohingya people, and insists all those who have fled by boat in recent months were Bangladeshi. The government has gone to great lengths to make sure it is not disproven — at least not on its own soil.
Its navy detained journalists over the weekend, erasing their camera memory cards, when they were trying to confirm the nationalities of 727 migrants on a boat hidden away for days near a remote island.
The ship was being towed Wednesday to northern Rakhine.
Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Myanmar's democracy movement, has recently been criticized for failing to advocate on behalf of the thousands of Rohingya who are fleeing the country, stateless, and becoming stranded.
In May, the Dalai Lama, another Nobel Peace Laureate, urged Kyi to "do something."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.