Home News Bangladesh restores internet access in Rohingya refugee camps

Bangladesh restores internet access in Rohingya refugee camps

The government of Bangladesh restored internet access to more than 20 Rohingya refugee camps on Aug. 28, months after a blackout has been imposed.

Citing security for the Rohingya population, authorities have cut off internet connectivity in the southeastern Cox’s Bazar district on Sept. 3, 2019.

The ban on internet services also affected communities surrounding the refugee camps.

“Many local and foreign organizations insisted on lifting the ban, and we listened to them,” said Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, the country’s home minister, in a report from Benar News.

Mohammad Illiyas, secretary of the Arakan Rohingya National Union, expressed his gratitude to the government for lifting the ban.

“It seems, we have received a new ray of hope. We were thrown into the ‘Dark Age’ and now we get back to normalcy,” Illiyas said.

“Our children can enroll in online classes. They will spend some quality time here in the camps and life will be easier,” he said.

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Since August 2017 some 740,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine State to camps in Cox’s Bazar. They were escaping a deadly campaign waged by Myanmar security forces instigated after Rohingya insurgents attacked border posts.

The internet ban was imposed in 2019 after some 200,000 Rohingya rallied at the Kutupalong camp to mark the second anniversary of the beginning of the mass exodus.

During the imposed ban, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission urged mobile phone providers to stop selling cellphone SIM cards to Rohingya.

Mohamad Johurul Haque, the agency’s chairman, said Rohingya refugees “are not entitled to use Bangladeshi SIM cards.”

“But they have been using a huge number of mobile SIM cards in and around the camps,” he said in an earlier interview.

He said only people with passports or national ID cards were allowed to have mobile phones in Bangladesh.

Radio Free Asia reported that the ban on internet services did not affect Rohingya access to SIM cards because refugees found a way around the ban by getting cards from and using internet networks in nearby Myanmar.

Local and international humanitarian groups have been pressing for the restoration of internet services.

Bangladeshi activists in April urged authorities to lift the ban to help in disseminating information about the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, the activists appealed to the government “to restore mobile internet service immediately and help prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the Rohingya.”

Last week, the International Rescue Committee called for the restoration of internet services “to ensure all refugees have consistent access to speedy internet services across all camps.”

Other humanitarian groups called for the restoration of internet connectivity, which they claimed is essential in facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Some government officials, however, said they are afraid over groups taking advantage of the return of the internet services.

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