DHAKA: Bangladesh has cut service to millions of mobile phone users along its border with India for “security” reasons amid fears a new citizenship law passed by its neighbour could prompt an influx of migrants.

The country’s telecom regulator ordered the mobile shutdown late on Monday in a one-kilometre band along the Indian frontier, the watchdog’s spokesman Sohel Rana said.

The directive was issued “for the sake of the country’s security in the current circumstances,” the spokesman said.

Bangladesh shares a 4,000-kilometre border with India and the shutdown would affect some 10 million mobile phone users, according to a top official from one operator.

“A large number of people in the border area will be without internet, voice and other mobile services,” said S.M. Farhad, a spokesman for an industry association of local telecom operators.

Website says Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sought an assurance from Indian government that it would not expel illegal immigrants across the border

Officials from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) said that the move was prompted by fears of a fallout from India’s new Citizenship Amendment Act, which accords rights to refugee migrants from neighbouring countries but excludes Muslims.

“We are worried that India’s current condition may prompt many people to enter Bangladesh,” said a BTRC official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

At least 350 people had been arrested as they entered western border district of Jhenidah from India’s West Bengal state in the last two months, an official said, adding that they were mostly Bangladeshi Muslims who went to India illegally.

Local border guard commander Kamrul Ahsan said the number of people entering Bangladesh from India had risen dramatically as a result of the citizenship law.

Two weeks of protests over the law in India have seen at least 27 people killed and hundreds injured after clashes between police and protesters.

The earlier exclusion of nearly 2m people from a new list of citizens in India’s Assam state has already triggered fears of deportations to Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduz­zaman Khan has said attempts to deport people from India had been thwarted by border guards in recent weeks.

Media reports said hundreds of people who have recently entered Bangladesh from India have been detained by border guards.

Indian news website The Print on Monday reported that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had sought a written assurance from the Hindu-nationalist Indian government that it would not expel illegal immigrants across the border. Hasina’s office was not immediately available to comment on the news report.

Earlier this month, Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry said one senior diplomat was attacked during a protest in Assam, which shares a border with Bangladesh and has the highest incidence of illegal immigration from its neighbour.

Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2020