On the bride’s side
“What border official would ever stop a wedding convoy?”
(…) They would use the film to help five Syrian refugees get from Italy to Sweden. They called the project On the Bride’s Side. Before it could go any further, they needed to recruit a wedding party.
“Gabriele called me two weeks after we met. He asked if I wanted to go to Sweden dressed up as a groom,” said Abdullah. “I told him yes straightaway.”
“When they asked me to be the bride I thought it was a great idea,” said Tasneem, a 25-year-old Palestinian German who fled Yarmouk right before the chemical weapon attack. “We all share the same sky, and we should all share the same right to travel.”
A 12-year-old Palestinian boy named Manar and his father would come along for the journey. They had escaped from Syria to Egypt, then boarded a boat from Alexandria to get to Italy. Born stateless—like most Palestinians in the region—Manar has found refuge in music and wants to be rapper when he’s older.
Del Grande also approached Mona and Ahmed, a Syrian and Palestinian from Yarmouk. They lived in Libya for five years with their children before leaving for Lamepedusa. With their children born stateless as well, they fled to Europe hoping to give their family a freedom that they never knew. Once they too agreed to join, Del Grande asked everyone to dress up in their wedding outfits and took them to the hairdresser.
“I told the barbers that Tasneem and Abdullah just got married and to make the entire family look beautiful,” said Del Grande.
Everyone looked ready for a wedding, but they still needed friends to come along for the ruse to be complete. They were all eager to find the protection that Sweden would offer, so they needed to quickly find others willing to join their risky operation.
“The subject line read ‚Top Secret,’” said Valeria with a smile, a 32-year-old Italian legal scholar from the University of Milan.
On November 2, Valeria received an email to join. Since she understood the consequences of their plan better than anyone, she was hesitant at first. According to Article 12 of Italy’s Immigration and Asylum law, smugglers can receive up to 15 years in prison for assisting irregular migration. That didn’t deter Valeria from joining.
On November 14, their journey began. A fake wedding party of 23 people—mostly strangers to each other—left Italy on foot and headed southwards through the mountains to France, a path that would ensure they could avoid the strict border controls between Austria and Switzerland.
“It wasn’t so long ago when our grandfathers traveled this way to escape fascism from Italy,” Del Grande told me. “Today Syrians are escaping for the same reason. So what’s the difference?”
When they got to France, they split into four convoys covered in wedding ribbons and bows. The first only had people with legal documents. They drove half an hour ahead of the other three cars. If they were stopped at the border, they would call the others behind them to abort. They never needed to.
“The police told us congratulations on the wedding in five different languages,” said Tasneem smiling.
The group traveled more than 1800 miles in three days. They drove through Luxemburg, Germany, and Denmark. From there, Abdullah, Manar, Abu Manar, Mona, and Ahmed all boarded a train to Sweden. Protected by the presence of the camera and the bride, they arrived unchecked. They were finally safe to apply for asylum, but crossing the final border marked the end to their memorable journey.
“I have never had a more beautiful experience,” said Abdullah, while pausing to search for the right words to express his emotions.
see: article on vice.com