Saying no, the foreign minister explains restrictions are necessary for safety and security of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis
Top members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives have urged the Bangladesh government to lift the restrictions on internet use in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, underscoring the critical role of communications technology as a public health tool to combat the spread of Covid-19.
In a recent letter to Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen, the US lawmakers emphasized that technologies like mobile phones and internet are necessary for sharing life-saving medical information, conducting contact tracing, and facilitating health and humanitarian services.
In reply, the foreign minister said the restrictions were in place for the safety and security of the Rohingyas as well as Bangladeshis.
Following the large gathering of Rohingyas on August 17 to mark the second anniversary of the latest exodus, the government slapped a ban on 3G and 4G mobile internet in the Rohingya camps.
The letter was signed by six senators and representatives: Representative Eliot L Engel, chairman of the House foreign affairs committee; Senator Bob Menendez, ranking member of the Senate foreign relations committee; Senator Ed Markey, ranking member of the Senate foreign relations subcommittee on East Asia; Senator Chris Murphy; Representative Andy Levin; and Representative Ami Bera, chairman of the House foreign affairs subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation.
“We are concerned the internet and phone restrictions in Rohingya refugee camps are hampering efforts to fight the pandemic. We encourage your government to work with humanitarian groups to lift these communications restrictions in the camps, ensuring that information and humanitarian assistance continue to flow unimpeded,” the letter reads.
“The internet and telecommunication restrictions have kept aid groups from performing their life-saving services effectively and efficiently,” it further says.
When contacted, Foreign Minister Dr Momen told Dhaka Tribune: “Yes, I did receive the letter from the US senators and representatives, and I have already sent the reply to them.
“I explained to them the necessity of restrictions in the Rohingya camps. I told them the restrictions are for the safety of the Rohingyas and our people,” he added.
“I have said that in the Rohingya camps, any resident can communicate anywhere in the world at his or her will as there is no bar on having a phone. Only, restrictions are on the use of high-speed internet to stop criminal activities, including women trafficking,” Dr Momen said.
“The activities of the people belonging to humanitarian agencies are not hampered at all as they do not live in the camps. They live in luxurious hotels where access to internet is not a problem,” he said.
“I also requested them to pay much more attention to the solution to the protracted Rohingya crisis,” the minister said.
“I told them that the international community is not doing enough to compel Myanmar to take its people back. I also called upon them to impose broad-based sanctions on Myanmar for its failure to repatriate its people,” he said.