Local activist: South Hasakah residents prefer fleeing to IS territory

Following the beginning of a joint campaign by YPG and rebel Arab forces in the southern Hasakah countryside on Saturday to clear Islamic State-held areas in and around the town of al-Haul, civilians began fleeing the fighting for IS territory, Abu Jad al-Hasakawi, a citizen journalist from the southern countryside tells Noura al-Hourani.

Civilians in the area are living between the “two flames” of IS and the YPG, says al-Hasakawi. “Most prefer getting burned by IS—it's less hot as far as they're concerned.”

Q: What are the areas civilians are fleeing from? Can you estimate the number of IDPs?

Large numbers of displaced are coming from those areas where clashes are ongoing, which are primarily occurring approximately 18 km south of al-Haul in the villages of Ghazila, Um Hujeira and Skandarun. So far there have not been large numbers of IDPs from al-Haul itself because the fighting is still relatively far away. But if the battle were to approach, the residents would flee en masse.

There are around 100 villages south of al-Hasakah, the number of residents in each villages is between 500 and 2,000 inhabitants. So we could say that there are approximately 80,000 residents in those villages.

 Residents of southern Hasakah countryside flee in July. Photo courtesy of Zaman al-Wasl.

Q: You mentioned that the Islamic State has taken advantage of displaced civilians' tough situation in order to encourage them to move into IS-controlled territory—how?

IS provides certain essential goods to people, for example Zakat money. IS issued a decision some time ago stipulating giving monetary sums to internally displaced people.

The sum depends on the displaced [i.e. the size of the displaced family], from 25,000 SYP (132 USD) to 75,000 SYP (397 USD) per family. I mean it's a pretty small sum.

As far as other incentives, you've got the forced displacement being carried out by the People's Protection Units [YPG], and their destruction of homes when they enter [Arab] villages.

This has forced people to live between two flames, that of the Islamic State and the YPG. Most prefer getting burned by IS—it's less hot as far as they're concerned. The Islamic State might punish individuals who are sinners in their view [i.e. for theft, smoking etc.] whereas the YPG forcefully displaces people and destroys houses indiscriminately under the pretext that “these people belong to IS.”

Q: How are the displaced civilians doing? Where are they heading?

The displaced civilians are mostly heading towards Islamic State-controlled areas. The poor among them are living in tents in the desert, whereas the more well off have been able to rent houses.

A number have headed to Turkey but they're a minority. The vast majority are poor and can't afford to make the trip.

The conditions these IDP's are facing are extremely difficult seeing as they're living in the desert in tents that don't keep out the heat or cold. There are no humanitarian organizations to present aid in IS-controlled areas, because IS allows aid organizations to operate but under the condition that its own offices control distribution—which the aid organizations refuse.

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani is from Latakia province. She studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor in Syria. She has worked at Syria Direct since 2015 and was named the 2018 Middle East and North Africa Laureate for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers' (WAN-IFRA) Women in News Editorial Leadership Award. Follow Noura on Twitter: @nanozain81

Dan Wilkofsky

Dan Wilkofsky was a 2013-2014 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) in Amman, Jordan, where he worked with Talal Abu Ghazaleh Translation and the Ministry of Social Development. He has a BA in Classics (Latin) and Middle East Studies from Brown University.