OFF KOH LIPE (Thailand), 14 May — A boat crammed with scores of Rohingya migrants — including many young children — was found drifting in Thai waters Thursday, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, with passengers saying several people had died over the last few days.
Dozens of visibly weak-looking people were on the deck of the stricken vessel, which was found apparently adrift several kilometres off the southern Thai island of Koh Lipe, in the Andaman Sea.
“About 10 people died during the journey. We threw their bodies into the water,” one migrant shouted in Rohingya to a boat carrying reporters.
“There are 300 of us…. we have been at sea for two months. We want to go to Malaysia but we have not reached there yet.”
A group of women wearing headscarves huddled on the deck cried as reporters approached, the AFP reporter said, adding many of the passengers were young children, some seemingly toddlers.
The words “We are Myanmar Rohingya” were daubed in English on a black flag tethered to the wooden boat, while a large tarpaulin had been erected to protect the stricken and weak migrants from the sun.
Many of the male migrants were topless and wearing only stained longyis.
There was no immediate sign of Thai authorities who have apparently been scouring the area for a number of vessels laden with migrants adrift in the area.
Rights groups fear hundreds, possibly thousands, of Rohingya have been cast adrift on rickety boats in the Andaman Sea in recent days, abandoned by smuggling gangs spooked by a belated crackdown on the thriving people smuggling trade in southern Thailand.
Both the UN’s refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration have called for a coordinated search and rescue effort, something regional nations have so far resisted.
Instead Malaysia and Indonesia have vowed to bar boats bearing desperate migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh after nearly 2,000 boat people were rescued or swum to shore earlier this week.
A Malaysian official, speaking on condition on anonymity, told AFP Thursday two vessels carrying a combined 600 migrants had been turned away in recent hours.
The boats were intercepted off the northern Malaysian islands of Penang and Langkawi and told they could not land.