A paediatric doctor describes his flight from the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa: One day ISIS came to me and put pressure on me to join the hospital that they controlled in the city. Most doctors had left Syria and they needed me. But I refused. As a result, I received threats. There was nowhere to hide from them – not in the small villages around Raqqa, nor in the city itself. I began to realise that my only way out was to leave Syria. I thought, ‘I’d prefer to go on one of the death boats than risk staying here’.
Life in Raqqa was terrifying. During the day we lived with the government’s airstrikes; at night there were coalition airstrikes. The sound of the jets was so loud it was like an earthquake. A close friend was killed by a government airstrike.
I realised that life had stopped for me, and the one thing I had to do was save my family. I worried that in Syria my children wouldn’t have a life or even get an education. I wanted to protect my life to save my children’s lives.
I started to plan my departure. I planned to travel to Turkey then take the boat to Europe, heading for Holland. My wife was in the final month of her pregnancy with our third child. She was so exhausted by the pregnancy that it was difficult for her to travel. So the idea was that I would go with a friend, and once I had immigration papers, my family would follow me.
I decided to sleep that last night with my children. Although they didn’t know I was leaving, they felt it somehow. I wish I could have brought them with me.
Leaving Raqqa was not easy, with fighting going on between ISIS, Kurdish fighters, Al Nusra and the FSA. I had to pass through three checkpoints between Raqqa and Efreen – it was like passing through three separate countries.
When I reached Turkey, I heard that the government was arresting people going to Izmir [a city on the coast]. Deep inside me, there was a voice hoping that this trip would fail and I’d have to return to Syria. [Continue reading…]