Thailand and Malaysia plan to set up border action in order to stop migrants landing on their shores, as a global migrant organisation warns that thousands are still adrift in the Bay of Bengal.
The International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) chief of mission for Thailand said thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants "are unable to land on shore."
“We know the longer they are at sea, the more their health will degrade. They suffer from vitamin deficiency and will soon look like skeletons," Jeff Labovitz told Anadolu Agency.
The United Nations also appealed to governments of Southeast Asian nations not to push back the migrant boats, hours after the Indonesian navy towed a boat carrying hundreds of the long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority out of its national waters. Nearly 100 women and dozens of children were abroad.
"We could see the land, we could see hills, but they would not let us off the boat," a migrant named Muhammad Husein told Reuters. "Many of us cried constantly but if we asked for water, we were beaten. They even beat the women."
In Geneva, IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle talked about "a humanitarian emergency happening" during a joint briefing with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Following the discovery of migrant corpses and a clampdown on traffickers by Thailand, smugglers began to abandon the boats in the ocean filled with sick and hungry people. Officials say locating those boats, scattered in the Indian Ocean and the Andaman Sea, is almost impossible.
IOM believes up to 8,000 people are still at sea, while the UN refugee agency estimates that around 300 people died at sea in the first quarter of this year as a result of starvation, dehydration and torture.
Thailand said on Tuesday it would ask its neighbours for help in tracking down human traffickers, while Malaysian authorities announced they had already moved more security personnel to the border.
Rohingya Muslims, who are described as the world's most persecuted people, are denied citizenship in Myanmar. Their exodus gathered speed after attacks by Buddhist mobs in 2012. Most travel to Thailand, where they are held by traffickers until a ransom is paid by their families.