By Reuters

MUMBAI -Up to 20 people have died of hunger or thirst on a boat carrying ethnic Rohingya that has been stranded at sea for two weeks off India’s coast, two Myanmar Rohingya activist groups said.

The boat with at least 100 people is currently in Malaysian waters as members of the Muslim minority continue to escape violence in Myanmar and hardship in Bangladesh refugee camps.

“We estimate that probably as many as 20 have died… some from hunger and thirst, and others jumped overboard in desperation. This is absolutely awful and outrageous,” said Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, which works to support Myanmar’s Rohingyas.

It is not clear if the boat drifted or was towed to Malaysian waters or if India attempted to provide aid.

Indian Navy and Coast Guard did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Each year many Rohingya risk their lives boarding rickety vessels to reach Malaysia.

Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network’s Rohingya Working Group said the group had been adrift for more than two weeks.

“These people have been adrift on a damaged boat for more than two weeks without food and water. We have heard that up to 16 people may have already died,” said Lilianne Fan, chair of Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network’s Rohingya Working Group.

The Sri Lankan navy rescued more than 100 Rohingya on another boat over the weekend.

In 2018, more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to neighbouring Bangladesh following a military crackdown in Myanmar that witnesses said included mass killings and rape.

Rights groups and media have documented killings of civilians and burning of villages.

“These people must be urgently disembarked to safety. It’s inhuman to keep them at sea after such an ordeal,” said Dil Mohammed, a Rohingya refugee leader in Bangladesh camps.