BANGKOK (AP) — More than 80 Muslim Rohingya asylum seekers from Myanmar detained in southern Thailand for illegally entering the country escaped from a crowded immigration detention center on Tuesday after nearly eight months in jail, police said.

Eighty-six out of 137 men at the immigration building used blades to cut the cell's bars and ropes made of clothes to escape from the facility in Sadao district in Songkhla province early Tuesday, Police Col. Kan Thammakasem said.

He said police were hunting for the men in nearby woods.

More than 1,700 asylum seekers from Myanmar's beleaguered Rohingya minority are being held in various Thai detention centers after arriving by boat earlier this year.

Hundreds of the Rohingya staged a protest last month in Songkhla against crowded conditions. About 30 of them made a similar escape from a police jail cell earlier this month.

Thailand's government initially said the asylum seekers could stay for six months, but extended the deadline indefinitely. Human rights activists have called for authorities not to deport the Rohingya back to Myanmar, where they face widespread discrimination.

New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on the Thai government to release the asylum seekers and to provide them protection, saying they were living "under inhumane and unsafe conditions."

"The Thai government needs to end the inhumane detention of Rohingya and ensure the United Nations refugee agency and other international organizations have full access to provide much needed protection and assistance," said Human Rights Watch's Asia director Brad Adams in a statement.

Sectarian violence in Myanmar involving the Rohingya has left hundreds dead and many more homeless since last year. Many of the homeless have tried to travel to other countries.

Early this year, hundreds of Rohingya refugees were detained in raids in southern Thailand.