Bangladesh orders communication blackout on 430,000 Rohingya – CNET

Rohingya Refugee in Bangladesh

Rohingya refugees arriving Bangladesh are denied mobile communication for now.

KM Asad/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As Myanmar’s Muslim minority escape an alleged “ethnic cleansing” to Bangladesh, they find new problems in their new home.

The Bangladeshi government has banned its telcos from selling SIM cards to Rohingya refugees, reports AFP, citing security concerns. Anyone flouting the rule will face a fine.

The decision comes under a week after Facebook listed a Rohingya group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army as a “dangerous organisation,” which it defines as groups engaged in “terrorist activity” or “organised crime activity.” Posts expressing support for such groups will also be removed. The ARSA was also declared as a terrorist group in Myanmar last month.

The sales ban doesn’t apply only to the Rohingya. Bangladeshis without an official identity card haven’t been able to sign a phone plan either. The government is doing this as part of a crackdown on homegrown militants, says AFP.

“We took the step [of welcoming the Rohingya] on humanitarian grounds, but at the same time, our own security should not be compromised,” said Tarana Halim, a junior telecoms minister. He did not specify how the Rohingya posed a security risk.

The silver lining is the ban could be just temporary. Once the Rohingya receive their biometric identity cards — which the military said could take six months — the ban could be lifted, according to Bangladesh’s telecoms authority.

Since the Burmese military began what international organisations have called a genocide, Rohingya refugees have arrived neighbouring Bangladesh in large numbers, causing “immense challenges.” More than 430,000 Rohingya are put up at camps already bursting at the seams near the border where there is dire need of shelter, food and medical care. 

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