These illegal SIMs can easily be found inside refugee camps as well as in small shops nearby
A significant number of Rohingyas living in the refugees camps of Ukhiya and Teknaf areas in Cox's Bazar, have been using Myanmar state telecom’s SIM (subscriber identification module) cards for their daily telecommunication needs.
SIM cards of Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications, better known as MTP, are being brought into Bangladesh everyday in huge consignments through illegal channels.
MTP’s cellular network gained much popularity in many areas of near Rohingya camps after Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) curtailed 3G and 4G internet services inside the refugee camps and nearby areas of Ukhiya and Teknaf due to security reasons.
Confirming the matter, Ukhiya's Balukhali camp Rohingya leader Lalu Majhi said: "MPT SIMs can easily be found inside refugee camps as well as in small shops near the camps.”
"These SIMs provide free minutes and free internet bundle packs, which makes MPT really popular among the refugees in camps."
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, Abul Kalam Majhi, a resident of Ukhiya's Shafiullah-kata refugee camp, said: “Traders buy MPT SIMs from Myanmar for Tk30-40 each and sell it for Tk70-100 inside the refugee camps, which is however cheaper than Bangladeshi SIM cards.”
“Moreover, these SIMs provide free minutes, internet and instant recharge offers," he added.
BTRC's ban in Rohingya camps
At the same time, BTRC also weakened mobile signals inside the camps during daytime.
As a result, Rohingya refugees shifted to MPT network, which has a good coverage over areas in Ukhiya and Teknaf, in order to continue their communications with the outside world.
• MTP’s cellular network gained popularity after BTRC curtailed 3G and 4G internet services in the areas
• They can easily be found inside refugee camps as well as small shops near the camps
• These SIMs provide free minutes and free internet bundle packs
• MPT SIMs are bought from Myanmar for Tk30-40 each and sold for Tk70-100 inside the camps
In wake of such rampant illegal activity, law enforcers detained several Rohingyas when they were trying to smuggle in illegal MPT SIMs into the refugee camps.
Ukhiya police station Officer-in-Charge (OC) Md Abul Monsur confirmed: "We captured a Rohingya man, Mohammad Karim, with 230 MPT SIMs from Myanmar. Another team from Teknaf police station captured three Rohingya men and recovered 222 MPT SIMs from them."
During the initial interrogation, the arrestees said MPT SIMs are cheaper compared to Bangladeshi ones and its network covers well on both sides of Bangladesh and Myanmar.
They also said MPT has quite strong signal strength inside Rohingya camps, which is why more Rohingyas showed interest to use it on a daily basis.
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, Ukhiya Kutungpal market committee president Helal Uddin said Bangladeshi citizens in Ukhiya and Teknaf have been affected greatly from the government ban on telecommunication services because the restriction does not apply to Rohingyas using the MTP network.
“The Rohingyas have been bypassing the government ban on telecommunication services by using the MTP network while locals are being deprived of services from Bangladeshi telecommunication companies due to the ban,” he said.
Furthermore, Ukhiya Press Club President Sarwar Alam Shahin told Dhaka Tribune: "I have information that around 5lakh people use MPT SIMs inside refugee camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf, including many NGO officials."
He said law enforcement officials captured two large consignments of MPT, but that did not stop the illegal dealing and availability of MPT SIMs inside and outside the camps.
Ukhiya Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Md Nikaruzzaman said: "Use of MPT SIMs inside and outside the Rohingya camps is completely illegal. We are trying to identify the culprits involved with this and punish them accordingly."
"We have also requested the BTRC to reconsider the business issues of local residents and mobile operators, and lift the ban on services of Bangladeshi mobile networks as early as possible." he added.