Hundreds of Rohingya refugees rescued after two months at sea

The belongings of Rohingya refugees lie on the shore as their boat remains anchored in Teknaf, Bangladesh, on April 16.

(CNN)Nearly 400 Rohingya refugees who left Bangladesh by boat nearly two months ago have been rescued at sea, the Bangladesh Coast Guard has said, while confirming that at least 32 people died on the journey.

The group, consisting mostly of women and children, set out in the Bay of Bengal on a large fishing trawler in mid-February, Bangladesh Coast Guard spokesman Hamidul Islam told CNN. They tried to reach Malaysia but were turned back, he said. The rescue took place on Wednesday or Thursday.
At least 32 people died and their bodies were thrown into the sea, Islam said, citing statements from the rescued refugees. "The deaths were due to several causes. Some died due to lack of food while some due to various illnesses," he said.
    As the boat reached the Malaysian coast, it was turned back by the country's authorities, Islam said. The overcrowded trawler then traveled to Myanmar and tried to enter twice but was denied entry by the Myanmar navy, according to Islam.
    The Malaysian coast guard has not yet responded to CNN's request for comment on Friday.
    CNN also reached out on Friday to Myanmar's Foreign Ministry and its embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, but has not received a response.
    Bangladesh authorities found the trawler in the country's territorial waters late Wednesday -- after spending 58 days adrift at sea -- off the coast of the southern district of Cox's Bazar.
    The spokesman said the rescued refugees, most of whom were starving and dehydrated, had been handed to the United Nations Refugee Agency to be quarantined for 14 days due to coronavirus concerns.
    "We understand these men, women and children were at sea for nearly two months in harrowing conditions and that many of them are extremely malnourished and dehydrated," an official with the UN's refugee agency in Bangladesh said in a statement.
    It added that the refugees disembarked from a distressed boat near Teknaf on Wednesday, close to the border with Myanmar.
    "We dispatched staff to the site Thursday and are seeking further information from local authorities. Our primary concern is for people's immediate health and first aid needs. NGOs and partners on the ground have been providing food and other support overnight," the statement continued.
    In early April, Bangladesh imposed lockdown restrictions in Cox's Bazar district, home to refugee camps housing around 1 million Rohingya refugees, in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus.