Bangkok, Dec. 6: An estimated 400 Rohingya Muslims believed to be aboard two boats adrift in the Andaman Sea without adequate supplies could die if more is not done to rescue them, according to the U.N. refugee agency and aid workers.
The number of Rohingya Muslims fleeing by boats in a seasonal exodus — usually from squalid, overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh — has been rising since last year due to cuts to food rations and a spike in gang violence.
"There are about 400 children, women and men looking death in the eye if there are no moves to save these desperate souls," Babar Baloch, the agency's Bangkok-based regional spokesperson, told The Associated Press.
The whereabouts of the other boat were unclear. The boats apparently embarked from Bangladesh and are reported to have been at sea for about two weeks, he said.
The captain of one of the boats, contacted by the AP, said he had 180 to 190 people on board. They were out of food and water and the engine was damaged. The captain, who gave his name as Maan Nokim, said he feared all on board will die if they do not receive help.
On Sunday, Nokim said the boat was 320 kilometres (200 miles) from Thailand's west coast. A Thai navy spokesperson, contacted Monday, said he had no information about the boats.
The location is about the same distance from Indonesia's northernmost province of Aceh, where another boat with 139 people landed Saturday on Salang Island, off the tip of Sumatra, Baloch said. Those on the ship included 58 children, 45 women and 36 men — the typical balance of those making the sea journey, he said. Hundreds more arrived in Aceh last month.
About 740,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to the camps in Bangladesh since August 2017, after a brutal counterinsurgency campaign tore through their communities. Myanmar security forces have been accused of mass rapes, killings and the burning of thousands of Rohingya homes, and international courts are considering whether their actions constituted genocide.