BAGHUZ, SYRIA / WASHINGTON — Thousands of civilians have evacuated from Baghuz, Syria, in the past two days as U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are trying to recapture the last stronghold of Islamic State (IS) in eastern Syria.
More than 6,500 civilians left Baghuz in the last two days alone, SDF officials told VOA Thursday.
They said hundreds of IS families, including children and women, were among those fleeing the town.
A VOA reporter spoke with some of them as SDF officials were vetting them.
SDF said most of these women were from Iraq and some were from different European countries.
“I’m from Belgium. I have been here for five years,” said one woman who left Baghuz on Thursday. She didn’t want to be identified for security reasons.
“I left the town because of airstrikes. There was heavy shelling throughout the day,” she said.
Some of these fleeing women expressed regret for joining the terror group in Syria.
“I regret, but how can I change it?” said another woman who told VOA she was from Finland.
“I said it many times now. How can I change my past? I cannot change it,” she added.
Not all innocent
But not all of those heading from Baghuz toward SDF-held areas are innocent civilians, local sources said.
“I saw some women chanting [IS] slogans,” said Ivan Hasib, a Syrian reporter who is embedded with the SDF.
“They are still aggressively defending Daesh and its ideology,” Hasib told VOA in a phone interview, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
He said the last batch of people who evacuated Baghuz were mostly “die-hard supporters” of the terror group.
Once vetted by SDF and U.S.-led coalition officials, displaced people are transferred to the al-Hol camp in the nearby province of Hasaka, SDF officials said.
But Kurdish officials said there are already about 2,700 IS family members who have been settled in two heavily guarded refugee camps in northeast Syria. Complaints are mounting as more people arrive from Baghuz, adding further financial burden on local authorities who are assisting them.
Kurdish groups have been urging European countries to take back their citizens, including women, children and IS fighters.