Two weeks after a boat carrying over 160 Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Malaysia got stuck in the middle of the Andaman Sea, the Myanmar government-in-exile released a statement appealing to southeast Asian countries for "emergency assistance" to those stranded.
The statement, released on 16 December by the exiled National Unity Government's Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR), claimed that one vessel carrying Rohingya refugees had been "intercepted by a Vietnamese off-shore company"; another vessel experienced "engine failure"; and the whereabouts of the third vessel are "unknown."
On 13 December, The Quint had reported on a boat carrying over 160 Rohingya refugees that had suffered an engine failure, which had left all on board stranded, starving, and thirsty in the middle of the Andaman sea.
Despite several appeals by human rights organisations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), no rescue attempts have been made so far. With no food and no water, the passengers on the boat are in a dire situation.
The National Unity Government -- which went into exile after last year's military coup -- also released a video on Twitter of family members of those on board pleading for help.
'One Child Dead, Others Suffer Dehydration': Myanmar Government-in-Exile Raises Concern
In its statement, the exiled government attributed its information on the three vessels in the sea to sources. It claimed that 154 Rohingya refugees in one boat were handed over "to the illegal military Junta in Myanmar" after the vessel was intercepted by a Vietnamese Off-shore company.
"A second vessel, which left Bangladesh on 23 November carrying more than 180 Rohingya, experienced engine failure in the Strait of Malacca and is currently anchored close to Indonesia."
The statement also claimed that "at least one child onboard has died, while many others are suffering from severe dehydration and extreme food shortage."
In a phone conversation with The Quint on 13 December, Rezuwan Khan, a Rohingya activist in Bangladesh, whose sister and niece are on the boat, had claimed that at least eight people have died so far on the boat.
As per the statement, the location of the third boat remains unknown. It reportedly departed Bangladesh around 25 November carrying an estimated 100 Rohingya.
The exiled government has appealed to Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to "provide emergency assistance to the Rohingya refugees stranded in the Strait of Malacca and to support urgent efforts to locate the missing third vessel."
It has also requested that:
"Under no circumstances should Rohingya be refouled to Myanmar where they face certain persecution by an illegal junta that has directed deliberate, systematic and widespread atrocities against them, and which refuses to recognise their identity."
'Our Children Are Starving to Death': Kin of Refugees in Video Appeal
Aung Kyaw Moe, advisor at the MoHR of the exiled government, shared a 56-second-long video on Twitter of kin of Rohingya refugees on board one of the three vessels. The video has been translated for The Quint by Ali Johar, a Rohingya activist in Delhi. In the video, the woman can be heard saying:
"Today, on 15 December, through social media, we would like to inform all the journalists across the world that since 25 November, our family members are floating between Indonesia and Malaysia. Many of them have already died near a place called Malacca Strait. No one is rescuing them. For God’s sake, we request you to kindly rescue our children."
She added, "Our children are starving to death in the middle of the sea. Kindly show them some mercy. Without your help, all of them will die one by one. Please save them for God’s sake."
As per Rezuwan, the Rohingya refugees were fleeing to Malaysia from Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar refugee camp, where they have been living in squalor since 2017 -- the year when the ethnic group faced genocide at the hands of the Myanmar government.
Rezuwan, who lives in Bangladesh’s Kutupalong refugee camp, had said, “We know the journey is filled with risks but here we have no right to education or work. This is why people are taking such huge risks and fleeing… Hoping some country will give us refuge."
Read The Quint's interviews with the family members of those on board here.