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BANGKOK-Thailand will host a regional meeting today (Dec 4) seeking solutions to address South-east Asia’s “boat people” crisis. A crackdown by Thai police on human trafficking gangs brought the crisis to light earlier this year, with hundreds of migrants abandoned at sea or dying in jungle camps.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has called on countries in the region to treat migrants landing on their shores humanely and avoid a repeat of the tragedy.

Some were trapped on boats in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman sea. Hundreds drowned.

October and November mark the start of the four-month “sailing season”, the busiest time for smuggling and trafficking ships plying the Bay of Bengal.

“We are still calling for safe disembarkation and humanitarian treatment – shelter, hydration, medical care and safety from the elements and criminality – and full cooperation from all actors, from the international community, that lives are not lost,” Joe Lowry, the IOM’s spokesman in Asia-Pacific, told Reuters.

Thousands of migrants have fled persecution and poverty in Myanmar and Bangladesh. Many of them are members of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority who live in apartheid-like conditions in the country’s Arakan (Rakhine) state, paying smugglers to board rickety boats to sail across to Malaysia.

Some ended up in the hands of traffickers and were held near Thailand’s border with Malaysia in often brutal and filthy conditions for months or even years until they could pay a ransom for their release.

A clamp-down by Thai police on human trafficking gangs triggered the regional crisis earlier this year. It followed the discovery in May of 30 bodies in graves near the Thai-Malaysian border, which sparked international outcry.

Thailand has charged 88 people suspected of involvement in human trafficking since launching the investigation into gangs but scores more are on the run.

Note: Changes have been made, REUTERS and THE STRAITS TIME is not responsible for these.