Dozens of international rights groups have called on Bangladesh to lift restrictions imposed on the persecuted Rohingya community living in the Cox’s Bazar refugee settlement.
In a letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, 50 rights organizations said the limitations on movement and internet and mobile coverage could have grave consequences.
“We write to urge you to lift ongoing mobile internet restrictions and halt the construction of barbed wire fencing around the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar District,” read the joint appeal by organizations, including Human Rights Watch and several Rohingya diaspora groups.
Referring to the COVID-19 pandemic, they said the restrictions put refugees, host communities, and aid workers at high risk.
Since September 2019, Bangladeshi authorities have prevented Rohingya refugees from obtaining mobile SIM cards, while operators have been told to restrict internet coverage in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
The letter said more than 12,000 SIM cards have been taken from refugees since September and, in some instances, authorities have prohibited the use of mobile phones altogether.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads to Bangladesh, unrestricted access to information via mobile and internet communications is crucial for slowing the transmission of the disease and saving the lives of refugees, humanitarian workers, and the general population of Bangladesh,” the groups warned.
Bangladesh has 56 confirmed COVID-19 cases and six deaths so far, while 25 people have recovered, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.