Across many parts of Syria, the relative calmness and signs of reconstruction have encouraged many displaced Syrians to return and make a living. Even regions like Raqqa City, which saw massive devastation, is seeing signs of people returning. In the province of Deir ez-Zour, however, the fluid situation continues to cause displacement.
Once under almost-total ISIS control, the province of Deir ez-Zour has seen militant control across the province diminishing rapidly since mid-2017. Two main forces were involved in these developments. First is the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) which launched an offensive from the neighbouring Homs Province, taking much of the central and southern parts of the province including the provincial capital that had been under a brutal ISIS siege since 2014.
The second force involved was the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Backed by the International Coalition, the SDF launched the Operation Jazira Storm in September, taking much of the northern reaches of the province, the towns and villages along the Khabur River and much of the northern banks of the Euphrates.
The rapidly-shifting power balance in the province has given locals the impetus to start moving to safer areas. Many of these Syrians are from ISIS-held areas and have been moving towards the areas controlled by the SDF. They provide harrowing accounts of depravity committed by the militants including rape and murder of innocents and the destruction of homes. Indeed, since the waves of displacement began, ISIS militants have launched frequent attacks on the camps for displaced people.
Others, meanwhile, have fled the areas where the territories of the SAA and ISIS intersect. Both sides have been known to shell each other indiscriminately, resulting in immense collateral damage and putting many civilians in the crossfire. Indeed, the massive damage witnessed in Deir ez-Zour City is a testament to what the people living in such areas had to endure.
For now, these displaced Syrians are safe from the immediate threats. However, many difficulties will continue to bedevil their lives. Conditions in the camps for displaced peoples in Deir ez-Zour have been steadily deteriorating and there is a fear that winter and the influx of people will exacerbate these conditions.