Foyzul Islam and Hafsa Bibi fled from the Rakhine state of Myanmar to Bangladesh with over 500,000 other Rohingya, including their 18-year-old daughter Rafiza. Lost and afraid in the hustle and bustle of the camp, they decided to try their luck elsewhere in the country.
They fled to Singair in Manikganj on September 14. The family took up shelter in the house of a local Muslim cleric. But as word spread of Rohingya refugees hiding in the village, people flocked to see them – the victims of ethnocide in a neighbouring country.
Shoaib Hossain Jewel was among the curious onlookers. A 25-year-old who was teaching at a madrasa in Jatrabari, he felt his heart stirring at the sight of Rafiza.
As per the regulations, the Rohingya were rounded up by law enforcement and sent back to the refugee camp in Kutupalong. Little did they know that they were driving away with the heart of this lovestruck madrasa teacher.
Shoaib followed his heart to Teknaf. He searched camp after camp, spoke to hundreds of people, and finally tracked down Rafiza. He asked her parents for her hand, and in defiance of the 2014 government ban on marriages between Bangladeshis and Rohingyas, he wedded her.
But of course, like every clichéd love story, theirs had to have an overwhelming obstacle to overcome. How does one sneak a Rohingya bride out of the camp, when the army had been tasked to take over administrative duties?
On September 21, a teacher coalition from Singair went to Teknaf to provide relief. Shoaib hid Rafiza under a burkha and joined the group on their way back to Manikganj on September 23. But the thrill was not over yet – Shoaib and Rafiza went into hiding after returning, afraid of government retribution.
Shoaib’s family, although delighted by the prospect of their son getting married, remained quiet. A teacher who was part of the aid group that sneaked out Rafiza admitted to the matter. The local UP chairman also confirmed the matter. Singair police now remain on the lookout for this couple on the run.
This is the first known marriage between a Bangladeshi and a Rohingya after the August crisis broke out in Rakhine. The military crackdown by the Myanmar army has forced over 507,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh and thousands more are feared dead in what is being called a modern-day genocide or ethnic cleansing.
The marriage ban was issued by the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs in July 2014 after the Cox’s Bazar district administration proposed a legal measure to prevent Rohingyas from assuming Bangladesh citizenship by marrying into the country.
This article first appeared on Dhaka Tribune.