Bangladesh released a decree Monday banning telecommunication companies from selling SIM cards or providing mobile phone services to nearly one million Rohingya living in refugee camps in the country’s southern region.
The directive echoed across the camps as it will disconnect Rohingya settlements from one another and isolate people from their relatives who remained in Myanmar.
“We won’t be able to communicate with our relatives living in Myanmar or other parts of the world,” a Rohingya leader who asked for anonymity told reporters. Refugees depended on their phones and the internet, along with radio broadcasts, to sow information and connect with family members.
A spokesperson from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, Zakir Hossain Khan, said telecommunication companies have a week to report to the government the actions they took to close down networks in the camps.
“Many refugees are using mobile phones in the camps. We’ve asked the operators to take action to stop it,” Khan told reporters, explaining the decision was made on “security grounds.”
According to the authorities, a series of criminal activities including trafficking of methamphetamine pills were conducted in the camps over the recent months.
The mobile phone crackdown comes just days after approximately 100,000 Rohingyas, rallied in the country to mark two years since the beginning of the genocide that forced more than 700,000 to flee across Myanmar’s borders.
The United Nations had denounced the crackdown on the majority-Muslim Rohingya people, describing it as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Myanmar denied those accusations and said they were conducting legitimate operations against Rohingya insurgents who attacked police posts. The country’s State Counsellor (equivalent to the Prime Minister) Aung San Suu Kyi, who is a former Nobel Prize winner once praised as a champion for democracy, had also come under national and international scrutiny over the genocide of the Rohingya minority.
Since Suu Kyi became Myanmar’s leader she has expressed that ending the civil war is her government’s top priority, however, the country has witnessed a sharp increase in violence and human rights violations, especially aimed at the estimated 1.09 million Muslims that, according to the national census, live in the Rakhine region.
Bangladesh has struggled with the heavy coming in of Rohingya, which caused an economic strain on the country which is already one of the poorest in the world.