"Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) militants are financially extorting civilians who want to escape the areas under the group's control in north-east Syria, in exchange for allowing them to flee, a local resident told Diyaruna.
Families from rural Deir Ezzor have been fleeing the area with the help of smugglers for an encampment in the town of Ayn Issa in rural al-Raqa controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
ISIS emirs in the province are now openly asking civilians to pay large amounts of money to be allowed to leave, said Deir Ezzor farmer Mohammed Assaf al-Obeida.
They also are banning the residents from taking any personal belongings or food with them, he told Diyaruna.
Al-Obeida said he paid ISIS 500,000 Syrian pounds ($970) to allow him and his family -- his wife, mother and two infants -- to leave Deir Ezzor for Ayn Issa.
The group’s elements confiscated some pieces of gold that his mother had in her possession after threatening to subject the women to a search by ISIS's all-female units, he said.
"They also confiscated some food items and children’s milk," he added.
"This has become commonplace in the Deir Ezzor region," al-Obeida said, adding that the practice of extorting residents was conducted indirectly in the past through smugglers who paid a large portion of the money they collected from escapees to the group’s emirs and elements.
"Now, however, the escapees are forced to pay the group as well as the smugglers who transport them to safe areas," he said.
Dealing with the smugglers is necessary, he said, to avoid perilous roads and areas planted with mines.
Al-Obeida said smugglers are paid up to 150,000 Syrian pounds ($290) for the entire family.
ISIS elements are now acting as if their presence in Deir Ezzor is nearing its end, he said.
The group is trying to get "as much money as possible and in any way possible, before [his elements] are killed or flee to another area", he said.