Dhaka: Bangladesh cuts access to 3G and 4G internet in Rohingya camps on Tuesday, in a further clampdown on communications among the refugees as Dhaka grows increasingly frustrated with failed attempts to repatriate them back to Myanmar.
Despite an agreement between the Bangladesh and Myanmar in November 2017 to send back the Rohingya, virtually none of the 7,40,000 who fled Myanmar following an August 2017 military crackdown in Rakhine state have returned.
The Bangladesh government has instructed mobile operators to shut down 3G, 4G and LTE (Long Term Evolution) networks in the Rohingya camp areas in Teknaf and Ukhia, SM Farhad, secretary general of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh, said in a statement.
The border towns of Teknaf and Ukhia are home to three dozen refugee camps where the Rohingya live in squalid conditions.
2G services “will remain active,” the secretary general of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh added, although a telecoms specialist in Bangladesh told that 2G speeds in the area were too slow to transfer data or use mobile internet connectivity.
Mobile operators had already halted the sale of SIM cards in the camps and shut down 3G and 4G network connections between 5:00 PM and 6:00 AM local time.
Bangladesh’s telecommunications regulator on 3 September ordered phone companies to temporarily cut off mobile access in the camps, citing security grounds. The clampdown has stunned the refugees and disrupted communications between different camps and with Rohingya still in Myanmar.
Rights group Human Rights Watch on Saturday urged the government to end the restrictions, saying they “made matters worse”. “The authorities should take a level-headed approach instead of overreacting to tensions and protests by isolating Rohingya refugees in camps,” Human Rights Watch said.
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are from Myanmar living in Bangladesh. For decades, the Rohingya have experienced ethnic and religious persecution in Myanmar. Hundreds of thousands have fled to other countries in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Indonesia, and Philippines. The majority have escaped to Bangladesh, where there are two official, registered refugee camps. Recently violence in Myanmar has escalated, so the number of refugees in Bangladesh has increased rapidly. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than 723,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since 25 August 2017. On 28 September 2018, at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said there are 1.1 million Rohingya refugees now in Bangladesh. Overcrowding from the recent population boom at Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee camps has placed a strain on its infrastructure. The refugees lack access to services, education, food, clean water, and proper sanitation; they are also vulnerable to natural disasters and infectious disease transmission.