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GRANDE-SYNTHE, France – Neither poverty nor war made them flee their homeland. The young, unmarried Iraqi couple with an infant daughter and a baby on the way had banished themselves for love — and now they are huddling in a forest hideout in France, hoping to sneak into Britain.
Ali Mohamed Tahir, a 21-year-old Arab, and his 19-year-old partner Sozyar had hid in several Kurdish cities after she became pregnant with their daughter Bella, now a chubby, smiling 10-month-old. Tahir had asked Sozyar's family for her hand, but was firmly refused.
"She was pregnant from me ... You cannot do that in Iraq, so we did have to run," said Tahir, now finding shelter in a forest near the northern French port city of Dunkirk. "We have a love story together."
The couple had returned to their hometown of Sulaimani, in the Kurdish region to the north, so Sozyar could give birth, before they sold his car and a family house so they could pay smugglers to help them leave Iraq.
They went to Greece but ended up in a forest on the edge of Grande-Synthe, outside Dunkirk, a haven for hundreds of migrants, including Iraqi Kurds. The area is well-known to smugglers and police, who survey the main encampment and regularly evacuate it.
Tahir pitched a tent in a hidden patch of forest for his family — expecting the second baby in six weeks. A former restaurant chef, he prepares meals on a campfire when his wife prefers not to eat the spicy food served up by aid groups.
Their goal is to reach Scotland, where Sozyar's divorced mother lives. Sozyar has not seen her mother in eight years, Ali said.
The couple's difficulties only make them more determined to forge ahead with their plan.
"It's more than money and future and everything," Ali said. "I want my wife to see her mother again ... I'm waiting for this hug. I imagine how much my wife will be happy if she sees her mother after eight years."