IOM calls on SEAsia to rescue thousands of migrants stranded at sea

BANGKOK - The International Organisation for  Migration (IOM) called on Southeast Asian governments 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.