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Govt decides to restore 3G, 4G internet in Rohingya camps

  • Published at 07:14 pm August 24th, 2020
File photo of Rohingyas at a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The ban was imposed in September last year, following a gathering of Rohingyas to mark the second anniversary of the latest exodus from Myanmar

Following repeated requests from UN agencies, local, national and international NGOs for a provision of services, the government has decided to lift the ban on 3G and 4G internet in the Rohingya camps.

The decision will be implemented soon.

“The internet is not a suitable medium for targeted authentic, I repeat, authentic instant community messaging. We have many examples of inappropriate use of social media. Baseless rumours and misinformation can create panic and destabilise the camps,” Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen said in a statement at a webinar, titled “Bangladesh’s Approach Towards Hosting Rohingya,” organized by the Centre of Peace Studies on Monday.

“However, responding to requests for greater internet connectivity, we have taken a decision on a lifting of restrictions on 3G/4G mobile network, which will be effective soon,” he added.

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

It also directed mobile operators to stop selling SIM cards to Rohingyas, confiscating thousands of SIM cards from the refugees in the process.

Also Read- Three years on, Rohingya repatriation still uncertain

“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,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal had told Dhaka Tribune at the time.

The service-providing organizations have long been saying that limited mobile and internet connectivity in the Rohingya settlements is a major challenge, and that communication is essential to ensure preparedness and to save lives should the Covid-19 pandemic reach the camps, along with an approaching cyclone and monsoon season.

Many also argued that allowing internet use in the camps would facilitate Covid-19 response via sharing proper information and countering rumours.

Earlier on Sunday, the proposal to withdraw the restrictions imposed on mobile services in the Rohingya camps and allowing them to use Bangladeshi SIM cards was discussed at a high-profile meeting at the Home Ministry, chaired by the home minister, sources at the ministry said.

When contacted, the home minister declined to comment on the matter. 

Sources in the Rohingya camps said many Rohingyas do use mobile phones, but with internet provided by telecom companies in Myanmar. 

The signals are available in the border areas, they added.

As none of those SIM cards are registered in Bangladesh, the government has been unable to have surveillance on those who are involved in drug trade and other crimes. 

It is a reason why the government has decided to issue Bangladeshi SIM cards to the Rohingyas. Their use can be brought under surveillance, the sources added.