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Putting an End to “Scavenger” Hunts

April 14, 2011 by  


By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

DumpsterAs the old adage goes, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” However, for hundreds of thousands of poor day laborers in the Middle East, it is an unfortunate way of life. They come by the planeloads to countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in hopes of a better life for their families. Hailing from countries in Southeast Asia, like Pakistan or Bangladesh, the day laborers are often exploited, forced to work an inhumane number of hours and paid very meager salaries.

Scavenging through the garbage dumpsters in some of the most luxurious streets in the world is the only way that most day laborers can support themselves. The scavengers search for precious metals and recyclables, like cardboard and plastic, that can be sold by the kilogram to recycling companies for a pittance. They also look for undamaged fruit crates and Styrofoam boxes. These kinds of packaging materials are resold to unscrupulous fruit shop owners who refill them with fresh fruit and sell them to unsuspecting customers.

This past week an environmental group in Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates oldest city, named “Bee’ah” teamed up with the Immigration Department to put an end to the scavenging through dumpsters in the region. According to the Chief Executive of Bee’ah, Khalid Al Huraimel, individuals who supposedly have no business being in the rich emirate are responsible for the scavenging epidemic. “Waste scavengers residing in Sharjah are usually illegal residents and, in best cases, fall in the low-income groups. Or they are individuals with expired visas or residency permits or people who have absconded from their employers or entered the UAE without any proper documents.” There was no mention of accountability for the wealthy businessmen who bring the laborers into the country in the first place without properly caring for them or keeping an eye on their activities.

A newly inducted anti-scavenging task force will now patrol garbage dumpsters in Sharjah and bring scavengers caught digging through the trash to justice. Huraimel believes that, by preventing scavenging, the garbage can be processed safely for the sake of the environment and human health. As part of the initiative, garbage dumpsters have been fitted with signs warning would-be scavengers in six different languages not take anything from the dumpsters. The anti-scavenging task force has planned a series of raids to stop dumpster “divers” in their tracks. The Sharjah municipality has also appealed to members of the public to report scavengers in their neighborhoods. A special hotline has been set up to handle calls.

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