The Need for Information
Since late 2019, the Bangladeshi camp authority has severely restricted Internet and mobile phone usage inside the Rohingya refugee camps, home to 1 million Rohingya, the vast majority of whom fled genocide in neighboring Mynamar in late 2017. Bangladesh has proclaimed the telecommunications blackout a necessary security measure. Despite global calls to lift the ban, the Rohingya remain essentially isolated from the outside world. Now, the impact of the ban has become deadly, as the Rohingya are being deprived of critical information on COVID-19. The information blackout has resulted in the spread of disinformation and rumors about the spread and dangers of the disease, causing widespread panic. The Rohingya are cut off from critical information they need to protect themselves and their families at a time when accurate instruction about safety precautions is key to preventing the spread of the disease.
The government of Bangladesh remains unwilling to lift the telecommunications ban, making radio the best resource for disseminating life-saving information to as many Rohingya refugees in the camps as possible. Our partner runs the only radio tower inside the 34 Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar and has already repurposed an existing JWW grant to provide original programming, in the Rohingya dialect, about COVID-19.
However, because not all of the refugees possess radios, they cannot all access this lifesaving information. With borders closed, large-scale sourcing and distribution of radios is impossible. In response, our partner’s innovative and fast-working solution is to mount loudspeaker systems to rickshaws, which can now reach all corners of the vast spread of 34 adjacent camps. These rickshaws are now broadcasting COVID-specific information around the clock. Through this project, our local partner, whom the Rohingya already know and trust, is effectively addressing the information gap created by the Internet ban, arming the Rohingya refugees with clear and contextually appropriate information.