The United Nations refugee agency has called for “swift assistance” to a group of Rohingya Muslim refugees who have been afloat in their boat for more than a week in the Andaman Sea of northeast Indian Ocean.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or UNHCR says it received reports of an “unconfirmed number of Rohingya refugees aboard a vessel in distress as of the evening of Saturday 20th February.”
According to the agency, the boat had left the coastal district of Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh about 10 days ago, and encountered engine failure.
Surviving without food or water, many of the passengers have been suffering from extreme dehydration and are in vulnerable conditions, it said.
It is not exactly clear how many passengers are aboard the boat and there are concerns that some may have already died.
The UNHCR said in a statement that “in the absence of precise information as to the refugees' location, we have alerted the authorities of the relevant maritime states of these reports and appealed for their swift assistance, should the vessel be found in their area of responsibility for search and rescue.”
“Immediate action is needed to save lives and prevent further tragedy,” the agency added.
Described by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as “one of, if not the, most discriminated people in the world,” the Rohingya are a Muslim minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar.
A deadly crackdown by Myanmar's army on the Rohingya in 2017 sent hundreds of thousands fleeing across the border into Bangladesh, where the refugees live in deplorable conditions.
Many have also risked perilous journeys in the hope of reaching Malaysia and Indonesia by rickety boats.