Dhaka: Citing security reasons, Bangladesh put a ban on telecommunication companies from selling mobile phone connections to Rohingya refugees, officials said.
“For the time being, they (Rohingya) can’t buy any SIM cards,” Enayet Hossain, a senior officer at the telecoms ministry said on Sunday.
Bangladesh threatened its four mobile phone companies with fines for providing phone plans to the Rohingya refugees while the ban is in place, reports livemint.
The decision on Saturday to impose a communication blackout on the stateless Muslim minority was justified for security reasons, said junior telecoms minister Tarana Halim.
Bangladesh prohibits the sale of SIM cards to its own citizens if they fail to provide an official identity card. “We took the step (of welcoming the Rohingya) on humanitarian grounds but at the same time our own security should not be compromised,” Halim said, without highlighting specific risk the Rohingya would pose.
Bangladesh’s telecoms authority said the mobile phone ban could be ended once biometric identity cards are issued to the newly arrived refugees, a process the army says could take six months.
More than 420,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August 25. The United Nations has called the assault “ethnic cleansing”. Rohingyas have been staying in shelters and camps in the bordering town of Coz Bazar in Bangladesh.
Tens of thousands are living in the open, who could not get a refugee camp or makeshift shelters.
Roadblocks are built along major routes from the camp zones, where a dire shortage of food, water, shelter and toilets due to the humanitarian crisis.
Some 5,100 have already been stopped at these checkpoints and returned to the designated camps, police said. “We have set up 11 check posts across the Cox’s Bazar highway to stop the Rohingya refugees from spreading further toward the interior,” Cox’s Bazar police chief Iqbal Hossain said.