Thousands stranded off SE Asia coast, warns UN

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Fishing boats head out into the Bay of Bengal. UNHCR fears thousands could be stranded on smugglers’ boats and in need of rescue. © UNHCR/S.H.Omi

Search-and-rescue operations need to be stepped up in South-East Asia amid fears that thousands of people are stranded on smugglers’ boats, the UN said Tuesday.

UN refugee agency UNHCR said that “several thousand” mainly Bangladeshi nationals and ethnic Rohingya and are thought to be adrift at sea after smugglers abandoned them.

The agency says it has received alerts that there could be more boats that need to be located and rescued.

Daniel Johnson has more.

UNHCR’s appeal to governments in South-East Asia comes after a recent drive against smugglers by Thai and Malaysian authorities.

The agency’s Adrian Edwards said that potentially thousands of people from Myanmar and Bangladesh are floating off the coast of Indonesia and Malaysia.

They’re believed to be stranded on smugglers’ boats between the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca.

Their health is most likely poor after “possibly weeks” with little food and water, UNCHR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said.

“Through various sources we’ve been alerted that there could be more such boats in the region that still need to be located and helped; we’re appealing to governments to continue their life-saving operations to find and safely disembark the passengers.”

Edwards said that more than 1,000 people had arrived by boat on the Malaysian coast at the weekend, including many ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations

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