Malaysian security forces have detained 15 children from Myanmar, some as young as six months old, and six adults along the porous border with Thailand, according to a report on Wednesday.
They were caught after officials from an anti-smuggling unit pursued a van in a rubber estate in northeastern Kelantan state. The vehicle hit a ditch and the driver bolted under cover of darkness.
Mazlan Che Hamid, the state anti-smuggling chief, said his officials could have stumbled on a child-smuggling syndicate.
He predicted more illegals would try to escape the harshness of life in Myanmar, making their way down through the southernmost part of Thailand to seek work in Malaysia. "We are suspicious over the number of children. Usually, illegals are those in the working adult range," he was quoted as saying by the Star newspaper.
Mazlan said the adults admitted they were all from Myanmar. They are being held by immigration authorities along with the children, although there is no indication if they are related.
Malaysia is one of the largest importers of foreign labour in Asia. Foreign workers, both legal and illegal, number around 2.6 million of its 10.5 million workforce, officials say.
Government figures show at least 26,000 illegals but unofficially it could be double that figure, and there are periodic operations to locate them.