Since September 2019, Bangladesh has restricted mobile-phone operators to limit 3G and 4G services in Rohingya camps
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a “controllable pandemic.” To control the pandemic, WHO experts recommend “social distancing” to prevent the spread of the disease and thus “flatten the curve” of infection.
But social distancing isn’t an option available to the more than one million Rohingya refugees living in densely populated camps in Bangladesh. The conditions of the camps and their tight living quarters cause these refugees to face a dangerously high risk of contracting and spreading the virus. To make matters worse, Rohingya are not allowed to leave the camps or move freely within them. The camps also lack access to sufficient water and sanitation—conditions that could worsen the spread of a communicable disease like the coronavirus, known as COVID-19.
Bangladesh has confirmed more than 45 cases of coronavirus infections—with the first confirmed case in Cox’s Bazar District where the Rohingya live in one of the largest refugee settlement in the world. If COVID-19 reaches the camps, it is likely to spread like wildfire. To keep refugees safe, it is paramount that Bangladesh provides Rohingya refugees with access to the internet, mobile communications, and information about the pandemic.
But Bangladesh is doing just the opposite. Since September 2019, Bangladesh has restricted mobile-phone operators to limit 3G and 4G services in the camps. Bangladesh authorities have gone even further than just cutting mobile-phone communication: My colleagues and I at Fortify Rights have documented how authorities have prohibited the use of mobile phones in the camps and are confiscating them from Rohingya refugees.