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Bangladesh cuts access to mobile phone services for the Rohingya

Bangladesh cuts access to mobile phone services for the Rohingya

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulator Commission (BTRC) has ordered mobile operators to stop providing services to Rohingya refugees, local newspaper bdnews24 reports, citing BTRC senior assistant director Zakir Hossain Khan.

The BTRC instructed mobile operators "to ensure that the Rohingya people do not get access to the mobiles for the sake of state security and importance, law and order and public safety".

Following the instruction, BTRC on Monday issued a directive to all the mobile phone operators to stop the sale of SIM cards and providing mobile phone services at Rohingya camps within seven days.

After the Rohingya rally on August 25, the government on September 1, transferred the Refugee Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam along with 7 camps-in-charge at Cox's Bazar.

"Many refugees are using mobile phones in the camps".

The notice was issued following allegations that the telecom operators were providing SIM cards to Rohingyas defying government ban.

Khan said it was clear that the law is being broken because no one is allowed to obtain a cellphone SIM card without a national identity card or passport, which most refugees don't have.

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The government's move surprised and dismayed many refugee leaders.

This week's decision to cut of mobile access stands in direct opposition to the widely-accepted 'communication is aid' approach of humanitarianism, which acknowledges that communication and information can help to alleviate suffering and can help those affected by crises to make informed decisions.

He also said that Myanmar should develop a congenial atmosphere so that the Rohingyas would be encouraged to go back to their homeland and would feel safe and secured.

Myanmar has denied the accusations, although Min Aung Hlaing said last month a number of security men may have been involved. "If weakened, the Myanmar mobile phone towers would not reach Bangladeshi towers and the Rohingya would not be able to contact people in Rakhine".

Haque said Rohingya refugees usually would contact their relatives left behind in Rakhine using mobile phones taking advantage of Bangladeshi cell towers along the border. Officials allege the banned drug was being smuggled into the country from Myanmar.

Government had proposed to set up phone booths in the Rohingya camps to meet their communication requirements.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.