The fighter stared uneasily out across the front beyond the village of Ruwayyan, 20 kilometres northwest of Raqqa, to where a sandstorm approached, stretching from ground to sky. “The first thing they do when they see us is tear off their veils.”
Thousands of women have crossed these lines, fleeing Raqqa and its surrounding villages as the so-called caliphate begins to collapse. Local authorities in Rojava, Syria’s self-administered northeast, say that more than 100,000 people have escaped in the past three weeks alone — an exodus all but unseen by the outside world.
The desert north of Raqqa is filled with these displaced, escaping on foot or by tractor, pulling their most treasured belongings, seizing the chance to escape caused by recent SDF advances and Isis’s weakening grasp.
Many have moved numerous times during Syria’s six-year conflict, smuggling themselves and their families across one front line after another as each new sanctuary becomes riven with violence. The lives of the women became ever more restricted the deeper into Isis territory they travelled.
Few of these women waste any time, and hurl away their dark clothes as soon they reach the first positions of the SDF, the American-backed units now approaching Raqqa from three sides.
An apparently necessary reminder of what oppression really looks like.