At least 100 Rohingya are stranded in a boat off India’s Andaman Islands and as many as 16-20 may have died of thirst and hunger or have drowned, their relatives and activists said.
The stranded boat was approached by five Indian ships late on Tuesday, a source told Reuters news agency.
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“We estimate that probably as many as 20 have died … some from hunger and thirst, and others jumped overboard in desperation. This is absolutely awful and outrageous,” said Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project which works to support Myanmar’s Rohingya.
Priyali Sur, an activist in New Delhi who advocates for the rights of refugees, told Al Jazeera the situation on the boat is “getting worse and worse”.
“I contacted the people on the boat on December 7, that is when they said two children had died. We got unconfirmed reports of some more deaths as two people out of desperation jumped into the water,” she said.
“It has been 25 days that they have been in the sea. They have run out of food and drinking water.”
Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network’s Rohingya Working Group said the group had been adrift for more than two weeks.
“We heard late last night that there were some Indian vessels approaching the boat so we are awaiting updates now,” said Lilianne Fan, the group’s chair.
“We hope that the Indian Navy or coastguard will manage to rescue and disembark the boat as soon as possible. These people have been adrift on a damaged boat for more than two weeks without food and water. We have heard that up to 16 people may have already died.”
Muhammed Rezuwan Khan, a Rohingya refugee living in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, told Al Jazeera over the telephone that his widowed sister Fatim Un Nisa, 27, and her five-year-old daughter Umi Salima are among the people stranded on the boat.
“She left the camp in Cox’s Bazar on November 25. She was struggling here alone with two daughters, one of the daughters is with us. We also got to know that many people have died and they have run out of essentials. They are starving and the situation is dire. We are very concerned about their lives.”
Khan said the international community should come forward to save the lives of the refugees.
Each year, many Rohingya risk their lives boarding rickety vessels to escape violence in Myanmar and squalor in Bangladesh refugee camps. Many attempt to reach Malaysia.
Another boat, carrying more than 100 Rohingya, was rescued by Sri Lanka’s navy on the weekend.
On December 2, the United Nations refugee agency issued an alert over a sharp rise in the number of people attempting to cross the Andaman Sea from Bangladesh and Myanmar.
The UN statement said the Southeast Asia waterway is one of the deadliest in the world and that more than 1,900 people had already made the journey since January this year – six times more than the number of people who tried to cross in 2020.
In 2018, more than 730,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh following a military crackdown in Myanmar that witnesses said included mass killings and rape.
Rights groups and media have documented the killings of civilians and burning of villages.