Myanmar SIMs in Rohingya camps pose security threats

Shahidul Islam Chowdhury | Published: 00:23, Nov 10,2019


The government is likely to take measures for stopping use of mobile SIMs (subscriber identification modules) smuggled into the country from Myanmar for using in Rohingya camps as those create security threats in bordering districts Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban.

The national taskforce on Rohingya issues has asked the national security agencies on November 6 to come up with solutions in coordination with the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission at the earliest on the use of data and voice services through mobile phone networks in Rohingya camps and bordering areas.

‘Over half a million SIMs are used inside Rohingya camps and adjacent areas and a good number of them are under Myanmar’s state telecommunication network allowing the country intelligence access through mobile networks inside the camps,’ an official with knowledge of the matter said, adding that the number of users of Myanmar’s SIM soared as the Bangladesh authorities imposed restrictions on use of 3G and 4G data services at night in camps and adjacent areas on security grounds since September.

The government now allows voice services round the clock, but controls internet services from dusk to dawn inside camps and adjacent areas.

The taskforce, in a meeting on November 6, also asked the Border Guard Bangladesh to stop smuggling of mobile SIMs known as MPT produced by Myanmar’s state post and telecommunications authorities.

Foreign secretary M Shahidul Haque chaired the taskforce meeting with participation of disaster management and relief secretary Shah Kamal, UN resident coordinator Mia Seppo and representatives of about 30 government agencies, including the Armed Forces Division, BGB, police, international and local development partners and representatives of the local governments and the local administrations in Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban.

The meeting was also told that the Bangladesh Army started preparations for installing barbed wire fence around the Rohingya camps on security grounds at the earliest.

The taskforce also asked the UN agencies to come up with innovative solutions for nominal payment for using limited human resources from Rohingya community for motivational activities and sludge management inside the camps, meeting sources said.

The government has asked the local and international non-government organisations to stop pay in cash to Rohingyas for tasks they were engaged inside the camps to create an impression that stay of the Rohingya people in Bangladesh is fully nonpermanent in nature. 

The taskforce also asked the UN agencies for avoiding ‘double standard’ that the UN offices were allegedly maintaining while dealing with Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh and Myanmar, officials said.

A section of UN officials were engaged in arranging campaigns against Bangladesh in international arena, they added.

The UN authorities were also asked to keep Bangladesh authorities informed what progress they could make inside Rakhine and with Myanmar authorities in creating environment conducive to start repatriation of the Rohingya people to their home.        

The taskforce also asked the UN for specific allocation for the host communities in the next joint response plan organised by the international quarters.

On preparations of relocating Rohingya people to Bhasan Char, the taskforce agreed that technical teams of the UN agencies and delegations of Rohingya people would visit Bhasan Char for seeing facilities developed for starting relocation of a section of the community to the island.

The government was working on a plan to relocate at least 1,00,000 Rohingya people to Bhasan Char to ease situation in overcrowded camps in tourist destinations of Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban.

UN officials have been asking the Bangladesh authorities time and again ‘not to rush for relocation to Bhasan Char’ without assessing technical, humanitarian and security arrangements for transferring Rohingya people to Bhasan Char along with the UN.

It has also asked the NGO Affairs Bureau, RRRC and the district administrations of Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban to work on close coordination in managing the Rohingya camps and potential relocation to Bhasan Char.

More than 7,00,000 Rohingyas, mostly women, children and aged people, entered Bangladesh after fleeing unbridled murder, arson and rape during ‘security operations’ by the Myanmar military in Rakhine, what the United Nations denounced as ethnic cleansing and genocide, beginning from August 25, 2017.

UN agencies and Bangladesh foreign ministry estimate about 11,16,000 undocumented Myanmar nationals and registered refugees now stay in Bangladesh.

Not a single Rohingya person has returned to Rakhine since the two countries signed three agreements for facilitating their repatriation under UN supervision.

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