BANGKOK (AFP) - The International Organization for Migration (IOM) called on Southeast Asian governments on Tuesday to find and rescue thousands of migrants who are believed to be stranded at sea and at risk of death.
Campaigners fear as many as 8,000 migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar - among them many from the Rohingya minority - are being held at sea with dwindling supplies after a Thai crackdown on trafficking curbed smuggling routes.
Nearly 2,000 migrants have been rescued or have swum to shore in Malaysia and Indonesia over the last few days. "It needs a regional effort... we don't have the capacity to search for them, but governments do, they have boats and satellites," IOM spokesman Joe Lowry told AFP, adding they may be in a "very bad condition or even dead" if not found soon.
"The journeys are long and a long time at sea isn't good for humans... they need to be found," he said.
It is unclear what efforts, if any, are currently being made to locate migrants still at sea.
A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Bangkok echoed the deepening concerns over the condition of those still on the boats, as traffickers abandon vessels or hold onto their human cargo fearing arrest by authorities.
"From survivors we hear there is very little food and water to begin with. And if they have been there for weeks or months there is a concern that people come in severely sick," Vivian Tan told AFP, adding that there is a "fear" people may be dying at sea.
Thousands of impoverished Muslim Rohingya - a minority unwanted by Myanmar's government - and Bangladeshis embark on a perilous sea and land trafficking route through Thailand and into Malaysia, Indonesia and beyond every year.