ALEPPO, Syria — “It was the most dangerous journey ever,” said Abu Alaa (a pseudonym), describing his trek, which ended in the northern Aleppo countryside in an area controlled by the Free Syrian Army (FSA). He arrived in Khalfatli, a village about half a mile from the Syrian-Turkish border, after having lived for two years under Islamic State (IS) control in the city of al-Bab.
Since November 2015, IS has prevented civilians from leaving areas it holds to limit displacement to territories held by the FSA, the Bashar al-Assad regime or the Kurds. To escape IS surveillance, civilians take unauthorized roads late at night and try to reach their destination at sunrise. The typical journey is extremely dangerous, requiring travel through areas laid with land mines as well as some experiencing fighting between IS and the FSA.