10 October, İzmir — Havle and Fatma are strolling along Izmir's picturesque Homeros Valles; the sun painting the sky with warm hues and the scent of olive trees in the air.
Reflecting on her life, Havle mused: "Migration has always woven through my existence.”
Her childhood was a tapestry of cultures, a product of her father's career that led her family to crisscross between Algeria and Saudi Arabia. “After marriage, my husband and I rooted ourselves in Syria. Sadly, the conflict forced us to abandon our home, careers, and all we held dear. Those were dark days.”
Havle is a mother of four, once an elementary school teacher, while her husband, Ali*, had thrived as an engineer, successfully managing his own business. In 2014, their family arrived in Türkiye, in search of safety and a fresh beginning.
However, the echoes of their past remained. "The war had left deep wounds," Havle reflected. "My child and I were going to school when a nearby school bus was hit by a bomb. My child suffered burns on his face, leaving lasting trauma for us."
Havle's husband, deeply affected by repeated news reports on turmoil in Syria, endured severe distress, which led to mental deterioration and partial paralysis.
As a family, they decided to put their mental wellbeing first, choosing to limit exposure to negative news and concentrating on quality family time in natural settings. This choice became their lifeline.
Recognizing and prioritizing the mental wellbeing of migrants is crucial to their successful integration into their new homes, enabling them to meaningfully contribute to and enrich their communities.
Havle and Fatima are attending the final gathering of a three-part meditative purification activity. Hosted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s Psychosocial Mobile Team (PMT) in İzmir, the initiative focuses on enhancing mental wellbeing through relaxation, guided meditation and breathwork. It concluded with a closing ceremony called ‘Commune with Nature’, where participants were encouraged to deepen their connection to the natural world, emphasizing the role of nature in nurturing mental health.
"Through engaging in meditative purification practices, I discovered the freedom to connect with others,” says Havle. “This experience brought comfort to my life and cultivated a sense of belonging."
IOM tailors Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) for migrants, refugees, and host communities across 10 cities in Türkiye, benefiting thousands of individuals since 2014.
"For people who have gone through difficult journeys, it is important to foster connections, nurture friendships, and a sense of belonging,” says Khalil Omarshah, IOM’s Programme Coordinator (Protection and Resilience). “Social interaction positively impacts emotional and mental health, with outdoor activities enhancing wellbeing through fresh air and movement."
Fatma shares similar sentiments as Havle, after leaving Syria in 2017 with her husband to escape the horrors of conflict.
"All my memories of Syria are blurred, like the dreams of a child," she reflects. "Sometimes, I wonder if that life was real at all.”
Pondering on the impact of the meditative purification activity she participated in, she adds: "For my mental wellbeing, it was crucial to make new friends, especially after enduring all the trauma. I was like a timid child, hesitant to venture outside, but my newfound community gave me confidence."
"Life pushed me to be an adult, as I had to build a new life. Here in Izmir, we found freedom, opportunities, and a chance to improve ourselves."
The earthquakes that shook southeast Türkiye renewed for some the haunting memories of what they experienced during the war, igniting a shared sense of empathy.
IOM’s event brought a mix of women together, some having firsthand experience of the earthquakes, while others were indirectly impacted by it.
"Following the earthquakes, my family and I relocated to İzmir. Since arriving, I haven't ventured outside. Engaging in this activity taught me to be more introspective and attuned to the sound of my own breath," shares one participant.
Another woman was six months pregnant when the first earthquake struck and had lost all her belongings, facing health issues due to the prolonged stress and anxiety brought on by the earthquakes. She expressed appreciation for her experience at the event: "I managed to alleviate these contractions through breathing exercises. I regularly practice what I've learned in these sessions at home, and it has improved my condition."
Amidst their trials, nature has emerged as a source of healing. Havle, Fatma and many other women found solace in the outdoors, a sanctuary where they could escape the shadows of their past.
The activity was supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).
*Names and identifying details have been altered for privacy and anonymity in this story.