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Exclusive – Refugees from Syria’s Hajin: ISIS Used us as Human Shields

Exclusive – Refugees from Syria’s Hajin: ISIS Used us as Human Shields

Wednesday, 26 December, 2018 - 07:45
Smoke billows after bombings near Hajin, eastern Syria, December 15, 2018. (AFP)
Al-Hol camp in Al-Hasakeh countryside (Syria) – Kamal Sheikho
Saadoun, a man in his 50s, recalled how he fled Syria’s town of Hajin in the eastern Deir Ezzour province to escape the ISIS terrorist group.

Along with his family, they escaped after they were used as human shields by the terrorists.

The ordeal took ten days. The family, along with others forced to flee ISIS, had to make a treacherous trek on foot in the desert, which has been dotted by landmines, to reach the al-Hol camp, some 40 kilometers east of al-Hasakeh city.

Saadoun did not disclose his last name for fear of reprisals against his relatives still in Hajin. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that he does not know what has happened to them.

He explained that when the battle to expel ISIS from Deir Ezzour reached Hajin, “the terrorists forced us to leave and head towards the neighboring al-Soussa town.”

When he and his family realized that the battle was impending, they chose to flee.

He recalled witnessing anti-ISIS coalition striking terrorist positions and “we received word of collapse in ISIS ranks.”

“This was our cue to escape,” he added.

His wife, Asmaa, 41, recalled: “We used to leap over corpse during our escape. We could not believe that we could escape imminent death.”

Prior to 2011, Hajin boasted some 38,000 people, most of whom fled as Syria plunged into crisis.

It is estimated that ISIS used more than 10,000 people as human shields.

One of them is Manal, 35, who spoke of the dozens of kilometers she had to cross in the desert with the help of smugglers in order flee the terrorists.

While she was still in Hajin with her family, “ISIS members came to our house late at night and ordered us to leave because the ‘infidels’ were coming,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat.

ISIS claimed that Manal, her husband and three children would be escorted to a safe location. They were told to head to the neighboring al-Shafaa town along with others who were forced under the threat of arms to escape their homes.

She was forced to sell her furniture and prized cooking pots to gather enough money to pay the smugglers’ hefty fees.

In al-Hol, she now resides in a tiny tent that is divided into a sleeping and sitting area and a kitchen area.

“Today, I don’t even own a cooking pot. I had a large kitchen and dining room. Here, we eat in the same place that we sleep. Despite all this, I thank God that we are alive,” Manal said with a smile.

Some 20,000 people managed to escape the last remaining ISIS pocket in Deir Ezzour, revealed the camp management in al-Hol.

Since September 10, the Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the international coalition, have been waging a military operation to expel ISIS from this pocket. The operation is ongoing despite US President Donald Trump’s announcement last week that he was withdrawing his forces from Syria.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet announced earlier this month that the organization was concerned over the fate of 7,000 civilians still trapped by ISIS in Deir Ezzour.

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