On Friday 28 July, the Islamic State captured fifty families in the western countryside around Deir e-Zor as they attempted to flee the IS-held territory the group’s recently announced forced recruitment campaign. The campaign targets men in the area between 20-30 years of age.
The organization follows an extreme policy against escapees from its territories, who, from the moment of their attempt to flee, are searching for safety from the Russian and international coalition bombing on Deir e-Zor. The air strikes, which have claimed tens of lives among those fleeing, are a particular concern.
On August 2, local “opposition” publications announced the deaths of 15 civilians, 12 of them from a single family, and 30 injuries around the village of Al-Tabni as a result of the Russian raids targeting the area. According to activists in the region, the decimated family had been fleeing from the city of Deir e-Zor to Al-Tabni when it was struck near the village.
With the announcement of the forced recruitment campaign, the province of Deir e-Zor is expected to see a wave of exodus from the territories under IS control. Those fleeing face a number of dangers and risks, including capture and the forced drafting of young men onto the front lines of IS combat, according to Deir e-Zor-based activist Bader al-Khalif.
In the IS announcement, published by the “Euphrates Post,” the group called for young men to report to the office of mobilization within a week of the announcement’s issuance. It warned that those who were tardy in their compliance would be held accountable and forced into combat. It added that no one was exempt from the recruitment except those with a legal excuse, as defined in the statement.
Civilians in Deir e-Zor stand helpless in the face of the IS decisions and its violations against them. Between the military campaign against the terrorist group, the attacking forces’ advances, and the bombing of IS-held areas, numerous defenseless civilian lives have been lost.
Civilians seeking to relocate within the IS-held areas are furthermore living though a “housing crisis,” as a result of the large numbers that have fled the towns around Deir e-Zor for the smaller surrounding villages. In comments to “The Syrian Voice,” Mohammad al-Khalif, a member of the Syrian network for human rights, claimed that IS gives housing priority to fighters’ families and removes everyone except these privileged few from schools and homes.
Those fleeing to areas outside of IS control are threatened by mines planted in the lands surrounding IS territory and punishments as severe as execution if caught by the organization. IS has executed a number of civilians attempting to escape their grasp, just as several others have been killed by the group’s mines.
In the words of rights activist Rami al-Asaf, the suffering of people trying to flee is compounded by the fact that “they do so randomly, and over unsafe lands, and in the absence of supporting organizations or authorities accompany them on their journey to escape.”