Umm Muhammad sits hunched over in a blue plastic chair, holding one of her ten children on her lap. Tucked beneath her seat, a single purse holds everything she owns. Her other children cluster around her while they wait for their names to be called to board a bus back home.
Umm Muhammad’s family is set to return on Sunday to their village, a-Shuheil, on the bank of the Euphrates River in the center of Syria’s eastern Deir e-Zor province. It is a day she never thought would come.
The 52-year-old took her children and fled a-Shuheil this past August, just weeks before the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched a campaign to wrest control of Deir e-Zor’s eastern countryside from the Islamic State. IS captured much of Deir e-Zor in 2014.
She and her ten children slowly made their way north across the desert, eventually settling down in the SDF-run Sidd camp—also referred to as the Shadadi camp—some 100 kilometers from home. The family lived there for two months.
“I never expected to return home,” Umm Muhammad tells Syria Direct on Sunday, recalling her journey out of her village. “I can’t describe the feelings I had when I left.”
But on Sunday, Umm Muhammad and more than one thousand displaced Syrians in Sidd camp boarded buses and headed home to towns and villages across rural Deir e-Zor province after the SDF reportedly cleared them of landmines and munitions. More returns are scheduled in the coming days.
As displaced families prepared to return to Deir e-Zor on Sunday, Syria Direct’s Shivan Hussein photographed and spoke to some of the displaced who have long awaited the chance to return home.
This photo essay is part of Syria Direct's month-long coverage of northern, Kurdish-held Syria in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and reporters on the ground in Syria. Read our primer here.