When Naemot Shah married his wife, Majuma Bibi, he was 14 and she was 12. They had grown up together. In 2014, when he was 18, Shah paid human smugglers to take him from Rakhine to Malaysia, a 28-day journey that nearly killed him, he says. His daughter was only six months old when he left. Three years later, his family fled to Bangladesh after the Myanmar military’s campaign of killings, rapes, and forced displacement against the Rohingya.
From a refugee camp in Bangladesh, Shah’s wife pleaded with him to pay for her and their daughter to join him in Malaysia. Knowing how risky the trip was, he refused. But his wife, whom Shah describes as “very clever,” quietly saved the money that he sent her from his job as a construction worker. In late March, she and her daughter boarded a fishing boat bound, they hoped, for where her husband lived.
“I was very upset that they went without my permission,” Shah says.
As news of mass drownings reached him, he assumed his family had died at sea. But in June, Shah, now 24, heard that a boat full of Rohingya refugees had landed in Indonesia. Scanning the crowds on a video, he recognized his wife and daughter.
“I never felt such happiness as the day I found out they were alive,” Shah says.
Other Rohingya in Malaysia have taken second or third wives, as Islam permits, he says. But he will not. Instead, he traveled to Indonesia to reunite with his wife and daughter.
“I will stick to one wife,” Shah says. “She traveled all this way, suffered this difficult time, for me.”