The boat left southern Bangladesh about 10 days ago and its whereabouts remain unknown as we understood that some passengers had died, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said.

In this November 9, 2017 file photo, Rohingya refugees sit on a makeshift boat at Shah Porir Dwip near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.
In this November 9, 2017 file photo, Rohingya refugees sit on a makeshift boat at Shah Porir Dwip near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. (Reuters)

The United Nations refugee agency has called for the immediate rescue of a group of Rohingya refugees adrift in their boat in the Andaman Sea without food or water, many of them ill and suffering from extreme dehydration.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it did not know the exact location of the vessel and understood that some passengers had died. 

The boat had left southern Bangladesh about 10 days ago and experienced engine failure, it said.

"Immediate action is needed to save lives and prevent further tragedy," UNHCR said in a statement, offering to support governments by providing humanitarian help to those rescued.

A senior Indian coast guard official said that the boat has been tracked to an area off the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

At least eight people had died on the boat, according to Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a group that monitors the Rohingya crisis.

Lewa said Indian navy vessels that were close by had provided food and water to those on the boat. "But we still don't know what they will do afterwards," he added.

A spokesperson for India's navy did not provide details of the situation but said a statement would be issued later.

READ MORE: In Pictures: The perilous journey of Rohingyas in exile

'Perilous journey'

According to UNHCR, the boat set out from the Bangladesh coastal district of Cox's Bazar, where about a million Rohingya live in dire conditions in sprawling refugee camps.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to Bangladesh after a deadly crackdown by security forces in Myanmar in 2017.

Authorities in Bangladesh said on Monday they were unaware of any boats leaving the camps. 

"If we had such information, we would have stopped them," said Rafiqul Islam, an additional police superintendent in Cox's Bazar.

Amnesty International said in a statement that too many lives had already been lost from countries refusing to assist Rohingya people at sea.

"Another repeat of those shameful incidents must be avoided here," said Amnesty South Asia campaigner Saad Hammadi.

"After years of limbo in Bangladesh and following the recent coup in Myanmar, Rohingya people feel they have no option but to undertake these perilous journeys." 

READ MORE: Myanmar blames the Rohingya for Covid-19, and that's a death sentence

Source: Reuters