The 3G and 4G mobile services at the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar will resume as soon as the government decides to lift the restrictions imposed almost a year ago.
The decision was made on Sunday at the meeting of a national taskforce chaired by Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan.
The taskforce on Wednesday sent a letter to the post and telecommunication ministry informing them of the decision, officials said.
“We have been informed of the decision and the BTRC is implementing it,” Mustafa Jabbar, post and telecommunications minister, told The Daily Star yesterday.
An official of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), requesting anonymity, said the services would resume soon. He, however, did not specify when.
A high-placed official of a private carrier said they were waiting for the official order from BTRC.
“It will take three to four hours to resume the services,” the official added.
The decision to lift the restrictions comes amidst repeated calls from UN agencies, local, national and international NGOs, and humanitarian aid workers. They have been saying that the restrictions hinder the desperately needed services and access to information in the world’s largest refugee settlement.
The BTRC in September last year directed all telecommunication operators to shut down 3G and 4G services and to block all services, except voice calls, in the Rohingya camp areas of Ukhia and Teknaf.
Officials said at the time that the decision was taken to stop the refugees from using WhatsApp, Viber, and WeChat.
It was said that the Rohingyas used the apps to contact people in Myanmar. The apps were also used for committing crimes in the country, officials said.
A technical committee of the telecom regulatory commission also found that Rohingyas of Ukhia and Teknaf upazilas of Cox’s Bazar were using around three lakh mobile connections of local carriers.
The operators were then asked not to sell SIMs to the Rohingyas.
On Monday, Foreign Secretary Masud bin Momen in a webinar disclosed the government’s decision on lifting the restrictions.
At the programme, he alleged that spread of “baseless rumours and misinformation” could create panic and destabilise the camps, where a few refugees have been killed in internal clashes in recent years.
“Yet, responding to the requests from our friends and for greater internet connectivity, we have taken the decision on lifting the restrictions,” he said.
Meanwhile, UK-based international human rights organisation Article 19 in a statement commended the decision to lift the restrictions on the internet.
Faruq Faisel, regional director for South Asia of the organisation, said, “This decision comes at a point when the Bangladesh government is in a race against the clock to contain the spread of coronavirus, including in the Rohingya camps.”
About 750,000 Rohingyas fled to Cox’s Bazar amid a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar that started on August 25, 2017.