Security

Waves of displacement continue as al-Raqa residents flee ISIS

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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Residents fleeing al-Raqa arrive at camps administered by the Syrian Democratic Forces. [Photo courtesy of the SDF]

Thousands of Syrians continue to make the perilous journey from the northern city of al-Raqa to overcrowded displacement camps, braving mines, airstrikes and sniper fire to escape the worsening situation in their city.

The number of people who have fled of al-Raqa has risen dramatically in recent days, with more than 1,500 people arriving daily at the Ain Issa camp, 50 kilometres north of the city, Ocalan Sheikhi, a relief worker at the Turkish-Syrian border told Diyaruna.

Most of the arrivals are residents of the city itself, while previously they were mostly rural areas residents, he said.

"The support currently being provided to internally displaced people (IDPs) is not at the required level due to the meagerness of the resources available to the organisations administering the camp," he said.

Key international aid organisations also have withdrawn their workers from the area on account of the dangerous security situation, he added.

'New life is written'

Residents who made it safely to Ain Issa tell of dire conditions in al-Raqa and of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) using civilians as human shields against airstrikes and attacks.

Al-Raqa native Ahmed al-Assafi, 50, who is currently at the Ain Issa camp, told Diyaruna he fled al-Bayatra district on June 19th, taking advantage of the chaos that reigned as soon as the battle drew nearer.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) now control four neighborhoods in the city, and on Tuesday (June 20th) also advanced along its southern outskirts, moving closer to completely encircling Raqa.

ISIS militants "abandoned their usual positions" as soon as the fighting became more severe, which allowed some residents to flee the city, he said.

He said that leaving al-Raqa was very difficult, but their knowledge of the area’s geographic terrain enabled them to avoid being fired upon by ISIS.

They fled to the nearest SDF checkpoint, where they were transported to the Ain Issa camp in guarded convoys.

"A new life is written to those who flee al-Raqa," al-Assafi said.

Residents of the city’s inner districts are living under are dire conditions due to the severe shortage of water and food.

"ISIS [elements] have in effect turned them into human shields and shoot at anyone who tries to escape," he said.

The group's elements have been taking refuge in residents' homes during airstrikes and intense shelling, he added.

Al-Assafi expressed hope that all residents can escape al-Raqa as soon as possible "because the closer the liberating forces get to the centre of the city, the greater the threat to the residents' lives".

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