(Add the location of the vessel to paragraph 5, Bangladesh comment to paragraphs 8 and 9)
February 22 (Reuters) – The United Nations refugee agency on Monday called for the immediate rescue of a group of Rohingya refugees who were adrift in their boat in the Andaman Sea without food or water, many of whom were sick and suffering from extreme dehydration.
The agency said it understood some passengers had died, with the death toll rising over the weekend on a boat it said left the coastal district of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh around 10 days ago and had suffered an engine failure.
“In the absence of precise information on the whereabouts of the refugees, we have alerted the authorities of the maritime states concerned to these reports and called for their prompt assistance,” said the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR ) in a press release.
“Immediate action is needed to save lives and prevent further tragedies,” he said, offering to support governments in providing humanitarian aid and quarantine measures to those rescued.
A senior Indian Coast Guard official told Reuters the boat was found in an area off the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and was declared safe, but the status of those on board was not known .
The Rohingya are a Muslim minority who have suffered persecution in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar and many fled in rickety boats, making often perilous journeys in the hope of reaching Malaysia and Indonesia.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled a deadly crackdown by Myanmar security forces in 2017 and made their way to neighboring Bangladesh, where an estimated one million people live in dire conditions in sprawling refugee camps, unable to work or to leave without government permission.
Bangladeshi authorities said they were not aware of any boats leaving the camps.
“If we had had such information, we would have arrested it,” said Rafiqul Islam, an additional police commissioner based in Cox’s Bazar.