The United Nations refugee agency has called for the immediate rescue of a group of Rohingya refugees adrift on their boat in the Andaman Sea without food or water, many of them ill and extremely dehydrated.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said he did not know the exact location of the ship and understood that some passengers had died. The ship had left southern Bangladesh about 10 days ago and experienced an engine failure, he said.
“Immediate action is needed to save lives and prevent further tragedies,” UNHCR said in a statement, offering to support governments by providing humanitarian aid to those rescued.
A senior Indian coast guard official confirmed to Reuters that the ship has been traced to an area off the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
At least eight people had died on the ship, according to Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a group that monitors the Rohingya crisis.
Lewa said that nearby Indian navy ships had provided them with food and water. “But we still don’t know what they will do next,” he added.
A spokesman for the Indian navy did not provide details of the situation, but said a statement would be issued later.
According to UNHCR, the ship departed from the coastal district of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, where around a million Rohingya live in dire conditions in sprawling refugee camps.
Meanwhile, in Malaysia, a court temporarily suspended the deportation of 1,200 Myanmar nationals who were to be returned to their homes in boats provided by the Myanmar military. The migrants included members of vulnerable minorities and had been sent to a military base on the western shores of Malaysia to be loaded onto three boats for the journey home.
The United States and the UN criticized the plan, calling for the UN refugee agency to have access to the detainees to assess whether some are asylum seekers.
The UN says it knows that at least six are registered with them and in need of international protection.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in 2017 after a deadly crackdown by security forces in Myanmar.
Bangladeshi authorities said on Monday they were not aware of any ships leaving the camps. “If we had that information, we would have detained them,” said Rafiqul Islam, an additional police superintendent at Cox’s Bazar.
Amnesty International said in a statement that too many lives had already been lost as countries refused to help the Rohingya at sea.
“Another repeat of those shameful incidents should be avoided here,” said Saad Hammadi, an Amnesty South Asia activist.
“After years of limbo in Bangladesh and after the recent coup in Myanmar, the Rohingya feel they have no choice but to undertake these dangerous journeys.”