More than 700 migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar have been rescued from a sinking boat off Indonesia’s coast.
Reports say another boat was turned back by the Indonesian navy.
The fate of another vessel of stranded migrants off the coast of Thailand is unclear after it was towed it out of Thai waters.Human Rights Watch has warned of deadly “human ping pong” in the Andaman sea, where thousands more are believed to be adrift, struggling to land.
Medical officials told the BBC Indonesian service that of those rescued off of Indonesia’s Aceh province on Friday, eight were critically ill.
“According to initial information… they were pushed away by the Malaysian navy to the border of Indonesian waters,” a police chief in the city of Lansa, Aceh province, told AFP news agency. He said that their boat was sinking and that Indonesian fishermen ferried them to shore.
The official policy of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia is that they will push back migrants trying to arrive on their shores.
However, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on these countries to “keep their borders and ports open in order to help the vulnerable people who are in need”. He said countries were obliged to rescue stricken boats and to respect an international ban on rejecting prospective refugees.
The BBC’s Jonathan Head, who visited a boat carrying more than 300 Rohingya Muslims near the southern Thai island of Koh Lipe on Thursday, says those on board had contacted their families to say that armed men in uniform had boarded the ship overnight.
They repaired its broken engine, gave them food and sent the boat south, they said.
Its current location is unknown – family members who had been able to phone on board while it was off the Thai coast can no long make contact.
Thai officials said the migrants did not want to go to shore but wanted to continue their journey Malaysia.
“This is not a push-back because these people wanted to go,” Lt Comm Veerapong Nakprasit of the Thai navy told Reuters.
“We did our humanitarian duty. They wanted to go to a third country,” he said.
But our correspondent says that after nearly three months at sea some are likely to need medical attention. Those on board, including women and babies, had told the BBC that they had no food or water and that 10 people had died.
Rohingya Muslims have been leaving Buddhist-majority Myanmar, also known as Burma, because they are not recognised as citizens of the country and face persecution. Many of the Bangladeshis leaving for Malaysia and beyond are thought to be economic migrants.
Earlier this week thousands of people started landing on the shores of Malaysia and Indonesia after being abandoned by smugglers afraid of a crackdown by authorities in Thailand, the usual route used by the migrants.
It is unclear how many boats full of people are adrift at sea, but rights group say thousands of migrants are likely stranded and are not being allowed to land.
The UN refugee agency has called for countries in the region to co-ordinate a search and rescue operation for them.
Thailand has announced a regional meeting on the crisis for 29 May. But Myanmar was reported to have indicated it would probably not go to it.
Who are the Rohingyas?
Rohingyas are a distinct, Muslim ethnic group mainly living in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma
Thought to be descended from Muslim traders who settled there more than 1,000 years ago
Also live in Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan
In Myanmar, they are regularly persecuted – subjected to forced labour, have no land rights, and are heavily restricted
In Bangladesh many are also desperately poor, with no documents or job prospects – BBC