The sight of people collecting waste from garbage containers to sale it is no longer a provocative scene in the city of Raqqa, north-eastern Syria, as this profession has become a source of income for many in recent years, after the deterioration of their living conditions and the increase in poverty rates.
Ahmed, a young man in his early twenties, leaves his house in the north of the city every day before sunrise, accompanied by his mother and younger sister, by horse-drawn cart, wandering the city streets, passing garbage containers and dumps, touching dirt in their hands without any sanitary precautions, in search of for nylon, cardboard, plastic, etc., in order to sell it at the end of the day to a merchant for a small amount of money.
Ahmed told Rozana: "We have been doing this for eight years now. The whole family collects garbage. My father used to be a mason, but after his death we lost our sole provider, and we had to do this work. I, my mother and my sister, work two shifts in the summer, from sunrise until nine or ten in the morning, and then we go to rest at home and put what we have collected there, and return to complete the work after the sun's heat cools down in the afternoon until sunset. At the end of the day a merchant comes to the house and buys what we have collected of nylon, plastic, cardboard, tin, etc. He weighs the goods and pays us. We make 4,000 Syrian pounds at best, and sometimes 3,000 or 2,000 depending on what we find in containers and dumpsters. "
Near the garbage dump in the north-eastern city of Raqqa, precisely in Sahlat al-Banat camp, there are about 300 displaced families, all of whom live from collecting the garbage. Men, women, children and the elderly there walk with their faces, hands covered with dirt and wear worn clothes. The unpleasant odors are unbearable in the camp. Near each tent there are large bags in which they collect the waste from the landfill.
When the garbage truck comes to the landfill, the camp residents flock towards the unloaded garbage containers, each of them trying to precede the other and collect the largest share of waste, in a tragic scene described by Shamsa al-Mohammed, 70, a displaced woman from Deir ez-Zour, who lives in the camp and works daily in collecting garbage from the landfill despite her old age.
Al-Mohammed told Rozana: "I did not imagine that I would live in such conditions. We used to live with dignity in Deir ez-zor, but our houses were destroyed by the bombing and we could no longer go back there. Displacement is harsh, and we could not find any work except this one. The foul smells are killing us, and most of the camp residents got scabies. Our children were ravaged with diseases. The organizations did not provide us with much help. We hope that they will give us a hand, so we can get rid of this hard and harmful work. "
Umm Saad, 35, is an Iraqi woman who lives with her Syrian husband and five children in the city of Raqqa. They were displaced from Deir ez-Zzor three years ago after the regime forces took control of their village. Umm Saad’s husband was seriously injured by the air strikes and his legs were amputated, which forced her to work to support her family.
Umm Saad said that after a long search she could not find a job. One day, she saw some women collecting waste from the garbage, so she decided to do the same in order to secure a livelihood for her family.
She explained to Rozana: "I come from a dignified family. This work is beneath me, but I could not find another solution. My folks in Iraq are also suffering from displacement; this is why I cannot take my family and go to them. This work is very hard. Look at my condition: my hands have become rough like men’s skin, and whoever sees me says that I am 60 years old although I am only 35. What should I say? I left the matter in Allah’s hands!"
Children like Ayham, 13, work also in the dumpsters. He carried in his hand a large nylon bag in which he collects waste from the garbage. His right arm was amputated by a landmine planted by ISIS fighters while he was playing with his friends near his home in Al-Tayyar neighborhood, west of Raqqa, two years ago.
Ayham told Rozana: “My father died, and my mother works as a maid. I have three younger brothers. I wish I could get a prosthetic arm, go to school and stop doing this job. "
The United Nations World Food Program had warned in late June that Syria is facing an unprecedented food crisis, as more than 9.3 million people lack adequate food, in light of the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, explaining that the number of people who lack basic foodstuffs has increased by 1.4 million during the first half of this year.
In late July, the General Authority for Forensic Medicine, affiliate to the regime, recorded six suicides in a period of two weeks in Damascus and its countryside, Quneitra, Aleppo and Tartous, coinciding with the rapid decline in the value of the Syrian pound, as it exceeded 3,000 pounds against the U.S dollar at the time, which led to multiplying the price of food commodities.