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200 Christian charities shut down in Bangladesh amid crackdown on foreign NGOs

(Reuters/Mohammd Ponir Hossain)Security personnel reacts near the Holey Artisan restaurant after gunmen attacked the upscale cafe, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 2, 2016.

Bangladesh has indirectly shut down 200 Christian charities as part of the government's crackdown on foreign NGOs that came as a response to a major terrorist attack in the country last year.

Bruce Allen of Forgotten Missionaries International (FMI) reported that 200 operating Christian charities have closed since the government passed the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Bill (FDRB) in October 2016.

The law was passed in an attempt to prevent terrorists from receiving funds under the disguise of foreign aid. The measure came after Islamic extremists attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery and Cafe in Dhaka, killing at least 20 people, including foreigners.

Under the legislation, an NGO must first register with NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) in order to receive foreign funds and perform activities.

Allen noted that while some NGOs have been prevented from working in Bangladesh, some charities may still be able to continue if their work is focused on improving the lives of the Bangladeshis.

"If you're an organization, even if you're a Christian mission agency or NGO, providing non-religious services such as a hospital or relief work [and] things like that, and your services are available to anyone in Bangladesh, then you're able to continue to operate in Bangladesh," Allen said.

"So what they were really clamping down on was just overt religious activity, so things that were geared specifically for the Christian community," he added.

Last month, 17 foreign non-government development organizations were brought under intense surveillance after the charities were found to be involved in militants funding. Most of the terrorist funding was reportedly conducted through mobile banking and courier services. According to the Dhaka Tribune, the NGOs were based in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other Middle Eastern countries.

After the attack on the cafe in 2016, tourism in Bangladesh has dropped significantly. Some were concerned that the decline in the tourism income, along with the closure of some NGOs, could create worse financial conditions for the Bangladeshis.

"It's a shame that these organizations that wanted to help the people of Bangladesh are now being prevented from doing that," said Allen.

While some Christian NGOs will not be able to operate in Bangladesh, FMI contended that it is still a viable choice for people looking to help and support Bangladeshi Christians because the ministry does not send people to work in the country. The ministry noted that it deals directly and exclusively with national church planters, and it tends to fly under the government's radar because it is not widely known.

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