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Home minister: Restrictions on 3G, 4G internet to continue in Rohingya camps

  • Published at 08:58 pm March 30th, 2020
File photo of Rohingyas at a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Ministry to sit with relevant bodies to evaluate situation soon

The restrictions on 3G and 4G mobile data in the Rohingya camps of the country will remain in place for the safety and security of the persecuted people and the host communities adjacent to the settlements, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told Dhaka Tribune on Monday evening.

However, he said his ministry will sit with relevant organizations to evaluate the situation soon, and a decision will be taken after considering all security and humanitarian aspects.

The remarks of the home minister came amidst repeated appeals from the humanitarian community to lift restrictions on hi-speed internet against the backdrop of the Covid-19 outbreak. The Cox’s Bazar district administration has also recommended that the restrictions be withdrawn.

Following a large gathering of Rohingya people to mark the second anniversary of the latest exodus on August 25 last year, the government slapped a ban on 3G and 4G mobile data in the camps in September, 2019, citing security reasons.

“The ban was imposed for the safety and security of the residents of the camps and our host communities. Those restrictions were also intended to stop violence and yaba smuggling. I think it is still necessary to keep the restrictions in place,” the home minister told this correspondent.

“But, we will sit soon with the relevant organizations and evaluate the situation. After considering all the security and humanitarian aspects, we will take a decision,” he said.

Replying to a question, the minister said: “I don’t think the activities of the government and other service providers in combating coronavirus or delivering essential services are being affected by the restrictions.

“We will make sure that our adjacent host communities are not deprived of any services they require,” he added.

Contacted, Kamal Hossain, deputy commissioner of Cox’s Bazar, said: “Our officials are also facing difficulties due to the restrictions [on the internet] and we recommended about two months ago that the restrictions should be withdrawn. As far as I know, a meeting was also held in this regard between the ministries concerned and the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).”

On Sunday, the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) of UN agencies, local, national, and international NGOs, said: “Another major challenge is the limited mobile and internet connectivity in the Rohingya settlements and adjacent areas. Communication is essential to preparedness and to saving lives, should the COVID-19 pandemic reach the camps with the cyclone and monsoon season approaching.

“Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi people living in the host communities alike, require adequate access to information online, as well as the possibility to communicate with families and loved ones,” it added.

A few days ago, the ISCG said: “3G and 4G mobile data restrictions in the camps have been in place since September, 2019, and present a daily challenge to refugees, humanitarian and government service providers, and host communities alike. Life saving health interventions require rapid and effective communication.”