Military escalation forces residents of Deir Ezzor to flee to Damascus or east of the Euphrates

Civilians at al-Jeninah river crossing in western Deir Ezzor - January 15, 2024 (Enab Baladi)

Civilians at al-Jeninah river crossing in western Deir Ezzor - January 15, 2024 (Enab Baladi)


In the province of Deir Ezzor, eastern Syria, and specifically in the cities of al-Mayadin and al-Bukamal in the eastern countryside, civilians are fleeing an area known as a stronghold of militias supported by Iran, which are periodically targeted by American aircraft.

The desire of people to distance themselves from areas where the military headquarters of these militias are spread out has increased after a series of raids by the International Coalition targeted the Iranian militias’ positions in the eastern Deir Ezzor countryside, resulting in deaths, injuries, and material damage, at the beginning of February.

With the American air raids that have affected the region, and the intermittent artillery exchange between these militias and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) supported by the United States east of Deir Ezzor, the area began to witness a movement of displacement towards less tense areas.

Displacement eastward and westward

For Mustafa, a resident of the city of al-Mayadin in eastern Deir Ezzor, the night of the US bombardment on the area was akin to a disaster, with warplanes not ceasing their bombardment for more than half an hour.

The sound of the explosions caused particular terror among children.

Mustafa’s seven-year-old daughter lost her hearing during that night, according to what he told Enab Baladi, as the family lives in the al-Tamw neighborhood of the city of al-Mayadin, where Iranian militias use homes as their headquarters.

Mustafa had no desire to wait. After the raids ended, he began gathering his belongings, determined to leave the city for a safer area, and by the next evening, he settled with his family in the capital, Damascus.

Mohammed, also from the al-Taibah neighborhood in the city of al-Mayadin, paid three million Syrian pounds to transport some basic belongings during his family’s displacement to the capital Damascus, fearing the recurrence of bombing in the city.

Mohammed told Enab Baladi that the hardship of displacement coincided with the winter cold prevailing over the capital Damascus, where securing fuel is a difficult task, unlike in Deir Ezzor, and its prices vary between the two provinces.

Mohammed also fears the journey of searching for a rental home, given the differential in rental prices between the provinces, according to what he told Enab Baladi.

Many of Mohammed’s relatives fled from the city of al-Mayadin to Damascus, while others decided to cross the Euphrates River towards SDF-controlled areas, with the same motives: fears of repeated US raids on the region.

Iranian militias as a cause for displacement

Uqbah, from the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, told Enab Baladi that the situation in the cities of al-Mayadin and al-Bukamal differs from the rest of the province, due to the spread of Iranian militias there.

This presence has caused fears of future American bombings, potentially leaving civilians vulnerable to aircraft missiles or their aftermath.

For Uqbah, he decided to leave the area, as did many of his relatives, especially since the Iran-supported militias have taken over homes owned by civilians in the area, leaving them on the streets looking for rental houses.

In the case of Sofiane, the situation is not much different. He decided to move to areas under SDF control, considering them safer for his family, especially after the bombing that hit the town of al-Sayyal in the countryside of the city of al-Bukamal, east of Deir Ezzor.

He added that the Iranian militias took over a large part of the neighborhood he lives in, setting up missile launch platforms and also deploying military equipment in the neighborhood alleys, heightening residents’ fears.

Sofiane arrived with his family a few days ago to the town of al-Shaafa, east of the Euphrates River, where relatives live, while he searches for a house to shelter his family of eight members.

Tightening noose on displaced people

The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (the political umbrella for the SDF) requires those coming from the cities of al-Bukamal and al-Mayadin, which fall under Iranian militias control, to obtain what is known as an ‘expat card’ considered similar to a passport for crossing borders.

Shams told Enab Baladi that she entered the areas under SDF control via the al-Jeninah river crossing in western Deir Ezzor, and upon her arrival at a checkpoint, SDF elements asked her for a sum of money amounting to 5000 Syrian pounds for each family member, in addition to the necessity of obtaining an ‘expat card’.

This requirement applies to individuals coming from areas under the control of the Syrian regime and Iranian militias and who originate from those areas, while those from east of the Euphrates (SDF-controlled areas) are exempt, but they still pay 5000 pounds as a crossing fee only.

On February 2, the United States announced that American warplanes had carried out air raids on sites belonging to Iranian militias and Syria regime forces in Deir Ezzor and its countryside.

The strikes targeted more than 85 objects related to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its affiliated militias in Syria and Iraq, according to the US Department of Defense, in response to drone attacks that targeted US forces near the Syrian-Jordanian border recently, leading to the death of three American soldiers.


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