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Bangladesh blocks Myanmar's Muslim refugees from SIM cards

The government, citing security reasons, says carriers are not allowed to sell phone plans to the refugees until they get identity cards.

Rohingya Refugee in Bangladesh

Rohingya refugees arriving Bangladesh are denied mobile communication for now.

KM Asad/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As Myanmar's Muslim minority escape a humanitarian crisis to Bangladesh, they're finding new problems in their new home.

The Bangladeshi government, citing security concerns, has banned its carriers from selling SIM cards to Rohingya refugees, reports AFP. Anyone flouting the rule will face a fine.

The sales ban doesn't apply only to the Rohingya. Bangladeshis without an official identity card aren't able to sign up for a phone plan either. The government is doing this as part of a crackdown on homegrown militants, says AFP.

"We took the step [of welcoming the Rohingya] on humanitarian grounds, but at the same time, our own security should not be compromised," said Tarana Halim, a junior telecommunications minister. Halim did not specify how the Rohingya posed a security risk.

For refugees, phones can be a lifeline, providing a much-needed connection to aid groups and government agencies, as well as to family back home.

The decision comes less than a week after Facebook listed a Rohingya group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) as a "dangerous organization," which it defines as any group engaged in "terrorist activity" or "organized crime activity." Posts expressing support for such groups will be removed. The ARSA was declared as a terrorist group in Myanmar last month.

The ban could be just temporary. Once the Rohingya receive their biometric identity cards -- a process the military said could take six months -- the ban could be lifted, according to Bangladesh's telecommunications authority.

Since the Burmese military began what international organizations have called "ethnic cleansing," Rohingya refugees have traveled to neighboring Bangladesh in large numbers. More than 430,000 Rohingya are put up at overfilled camps near the border where there is dire need of shelter, food and medical care.

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