For families fleeing IS, a waystation in Aleppo
Syrian escapees from the Islamic State group languished for hours on the sizzling concrete pavements at Aleppo’s main bus station, their faces gaunt and eyes rimmed by dark circles. Just six months ago, the Ramussa station was the main transit point for thousands of people bussed out of second city Aleppo as part of a landmark evacuation deal. Now, buses are starting to trickle through again-this time carrying traumatized families fleeing IS’s dwindling territory to government-held zones in the rest of the country. “It’s a miracle that we’re here,” said Umm Hammoud, 45, who fled IS’s bastion city Raqa with her 10 children aboard a pickup truck. She spoke to AFP while waiting for a bus to take her to Syria’s third city Homs, where she will be reunited with long-lost relatives.
Before Syria’s civil war started in 2011, it took Umm Hammoud just two hours to make the 200-kilometre westward bus trip from her native Raqa to Aleppo. This time, it took her and her family a month. “We fled Raqa at the beginning of Ramadan (the Muslim holy month that began in late May) after each paying 150,000 Syrian pounds,” or around $300, Umm Hammoud said. She recounted a terrifying journey delayed by heavy air strikes on jihadist-held villages and difficulty negotiating with smugglers. “When we got here, we could barely believe that we survived,” she said as she struggled to soothe her wailing six-month-old in the scorching heat.
Umm Hammoud and her family skirted landmines, air strikes, and an IS patrol unit tracking down anyone trying to flee the city. But when they reached Aleppo, they did not find the bustling commercial metropolis they had once known. — AFP
ALEPPO: Displaced Syrians who fled with their families Islamic State controlled areas in Raqa, Deir Ezzor and Mayadeen gather at Aleppo’s bus station of Ramussa. —AFP