December 10, 2018

Love in the Time of Displacement

Written by IOM - UN Migration

This article originally appeared on Medium. Reposted with permission.

Mohammed and Marwah seated at their wedding

Mohammed and Marwah married on September 27, along with four other couples living in Haj Ali camp. Photo: IOM/ Sarah Ali

Mosul — Marwah always dreamed of a big wedding party in a fancy venue and a luxurious white wedding dress with hundreds of family and friends in attendance. But this dream was shattered when ISIL took over the city of Mosul in June 2014, where she was living at the time.

Marwah and her family chose to stay in the ISIL-controlled city. She felt trapped and hopeless, and her wedding plans became an impossible dream. Traditional wedding ceremonies that included music, dancing and mingling between men and women were strictly forbidden by ISIL.

Returnees cross a temporary floating bridge over the Tigris River, which splits Mosul city into East and West banks, after the city was retaken from ISIL. Photo: IOM/Raber Aziz

In mid-2016, when military operations to retake Mosul started, Marwah’s family fled to Hammam Al Alil, southeast of the city — an area under control of the Iraqi forces. The family subsequently moved to Haj Ali camp, farther south, where they were reunited with other family and friends, including Mohammed.

Mohammed and Marwah fell in love. A year later, they got engaged. In stark contrast to the wedding that Marwah had dreamed of, they married in the camp two years after their engagement.

Marwah fell in love with Mohammed while displaced in Haj Ali camp. Photo: IOM/ Sarah Ali
Mohammed in his decorated tent, prepared for the wedding. Beneficiaries of IOM-sponsored carpentry course in Haj Ali Camp built the chest of drawers. Photo: IOM/ Sarah Ali

“I don’t care if we are in a tent. We love each other and that’s all that matters. We agreed to stay together forever and I told him that I would be with him in any situation,” said Marwah.

Mohammed added: “When you live in a camp, it is only logical that marriage is the last thing on your mind, because of the many difficulties of daily life here, such as the lack of job opportunities, limited space, the harsh weather conditions… and not being able to make your dream wedding come true,” he said, “but life must go on.”

Haj Ali camp, built by IOM in 2016 as an emergency site to house people fleeing Mosul, still hosts 15,600 internally displaced Iraqis. Photo: IOM/Raber Aziz

Marwah and Mohammed married on September 27, along with four other couples living in the camp, in a group wedding ceremony in Haj Ali camp, organized by IOM with support from Germany.

Beneficiaries who had participated in a variety of trainings through IOM psychosocial support (PSS) programme contributed to the couples’ big day. Beneficiaries of hairdressing and makeup training courses did the brides’ hairstyle and makeup. Beneficiaries of carpentry courses made chests of drawers, and those who followed the baking courses baked wedding cakes. IOM’s PSS courses were funded by the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)

Beneficiaries of IOM courses in Haj Ali camp baked wedding cakes, helped the brides with hair and makeup and built furniture for the couples. Photo: IOM/Sarah Ali

“Marwah told me that whatever happens, we will still be together, and this means the world to me. It is hard to get married in a camp but she wanted to go ahead, I really appreciate and respect this,” said Mohammed.

The group wedding was attended by many residents of the Haj Ali camp and local community leaders. Photo: IOM/Sarah Ali

Mohammed was in his last year of high school when ISIL took over Mosul in June 2014. Because he is the oldest of seven siblings, he dropped out to support his family. He hopes to go back to Mosul soon to start a new life with his bride, and finish school to become an English teacher.

“We are preparing ourselves to go back home. We need to go back. It’s true that there are not many work opportunities in Mosul and this is a major challenge, but with my wife by my side, I am ready to start a new life and contribute to rebuilding our city,” he concluded.

A scene of destruction from West Mosul. Photo: IOM/Raber Aziz

This article was written by Raber Y. Aziz, Media and Communications Officer for IOM Iraq with contributions from Sarah Ali.