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Chariots of steel: Barcelona’s hidden army of scrap recyclers | Global development

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They are everywhere and yet they are almost invisible, living below the social radar as they crisscross the city pushing supermarket trolleys piled with metal tubing, old microwaves and empty beer cans.

The chatarreros are Barcelona’s itinerant scrap-metal collectors, and there are thousands of them. Most are undocumented migrants and so there is no official census, but Federico Demaria, a social scientist at the University of Barcelona who is conducting a study of the informal recyclers in Catalonia, believes there are between 50,000 and 100,000 in the region. About half are from sub-Saharan Africa; the rest are from eastern Europe, elsewhere in Africa and Spain.

They may be under the radar but they play a vital role in recycling, collecting an estimated 100,000 tonnes of metal a year in Catalonia alone, in a business that the Spanish recycling federation estimates is worth €10bn (£8.6bn) annually.

“What I’ve collected today is only worth about €3,” says Suleiman, resting on a bench en route to the scrapyard. A bed frame and bits of twisted metal are crammed into his shopping trolley. “Steel is worth less than 10 cents a kilo.”

Suleiman arrived from Guinea in 2005 and, although he has his residency papers, says it’s impossible to land a proper job. “Next month I’m going to Lleida [a city 100 miles west of Barcelona] to dig potatoes and pick cherries,” he says.

A chatarrero or scrap-metal collector in Barcelona,
Chatarreros are only paid what they receive for the scrap metal

Víctor Mitjans, a recycling expert employed by the Barcelona Metropolitan Area, says: “The informal collectors are exploited by scrap merchants who, knowing these people are ‘illegal’, offer a price and it’s a case of take it or leave it.”

The waste belongs to the city, so collecting it is technically theft. “The city isn’t going to prosecute these people and most are prepared to turn a blind eye to their activities,” he says.

While the city pays private companies to collect and separate waste, the informal collectors are not rewarded for their work beyond what they receive for scrap. Recycling metal isn’t part of the formal system of collecting glass, paper and plastic.

“If you recognise their environmental service then they should be compensated for it,” says Demaria. Contracts for waste collection in Barcelona city are worth €2.3bn. The problem is that the migrants are trapped in a catch-22 due to Spanish immigration law: they cannot get a job because they are undocumented but they cannot get legal status without a job.

A chatarrero or scrap-metal collector in Barcelona,
Around half of the pickers are sub-Saharan Africans; the rest are from eastern Europe, elsewhere in Africa and Spain

To get legal residency you have to live in the country for three years, prove that you have had a fixed address for at least a year, show that you are learning the language and have a work contract for a minimum of one year. For many, it is impossible to fulfil these conditions, and even if they get legal status, they have to register as self-employed and pay a statutory monthly “quota” of €300, regardless of income, which they do not earn enough to pay.

The self-employed quota forces tens of thousands of people in the lowest-paid jobs, such as domestic workers and carers, into the informal market. They are among the hardest hit by the pandemic, because they have no way of claiming compensation for lost earnings from the state.

“What can you do? Steal? Sell drugs?” asks Ababacar Thiakh Sylla, who came to Spain from Senegal 23 years ago. “If you don’t want to do that the only option is collecting scrap or being a street vendor. It’s social exclusion, nothing more nor less.”

Sylla arrived from Dakar, Senegal, with a university degree that was not recognised in Spain, and so spent the next six years working illegally as a street vendor before obtaining a history degree from the University of Barcelona. He now works for a city-funded cooperative that helps undocumented workers find jobs.

Chatarreros in Barcelona.
Pickers collect an estimated 100,000 tonnes of metal a year in Catalonia alone

A 2013 report by the International Labour Office estimated that only about a fifth of the 24 million people worldwide working in waste management are formally employed. The remainder are the 19-million-strong global army of informal waste pickers.

“These people provide this recycling service and they invest their whole life in it because it’s the only way they can survive,” says Lucía Fernández, who helped to establish the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, speaking from her office in Montevideo, Uruguay.

“The chatarreros of Barcelona are at the bottom of a pyramid, with multinational capital at the top,” she says – something that has long been the case in the global south but is a new phenomenon in the north.

Demaria agrees. “It’s got a lot to do with inequality and we’re seeing a convergence between the north and the south because now in the global north we have a lot of people who live in extreme poverty,” he says.

Collected scrap is sorted
It is thought there may be between 50,000 and 100,000 informal recyclers in Catalonia

Fernández says that, while governments spend millions on sophisticated waste collection services, in parts of Brazil waste pickers gather as much as 60% of what is collected for recycling.

“We need to see these people’s work not as a problem but as a solution, but to do that we need to change the system,” Fernández says.

More and more Africans are making the perilous journey to Spain, where a tough and precarious existence awaits. “When people who have worked here, even as a waiter, go back to Senegal, what people see is someone who has made a success of life in paradise,” says Mamadou Saliou Diallo. “They’ve got their lives sorted. People sell their homes so that their children can cross the sea in a canoe.”

Diallo arrived 11 years ago, alone, aged 16 and determined to be a professional footballer. He did play for Sant Andreu when it was in the second division, but was dropped when new management took over.

As well as working for a bicycle hire firm, he has set up the NGO Diandé frica, which helps fund the education of 500 children in his home town of Ziguinchor, south Senegal, while also running a day nursery and a jam-making project in the Raval district of Barcelona.

Chatarreros’ tents in Barcelona.
Chatarreros’ tents in Barcelona

For Karim, who in 2006 was among 30 people who set off from home in a small boat for a new life, Senegal had little to offer. After 15 days at sea they arrived in the Canary Islands, the longest and most dangerous of the African migrant routes to Europe.

In one week last October, nearly 500 migrants drowned attempting this crossing. Karim says he was never afraid, however. “Yes, it’s dangerous, but if things are bad in your country and your family is suffering, if your life is already a living death, at least you tried. Maybe you’ll drown but you can feel proud that you tried.”

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Germany mulls restrictions for unvaccinated as cases soar

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The surge in Covid-19 cases due to the spread of the more contagious Delta variant has prompted a debate in Germany over whether people who have not yet been vaccinated should face restrictions – after other countries like France and Greece made similar moves.

“Vaccinated people will definitely have more freedoms than unvaccinated people,” chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, said in an interview published on Sunday (25 July).

If infections continue to rise, unvaccinated people might be forbidden from entering restaurants, cinemas, theatres or sports stadiums because “the residual risk is too high,” he said.

Merkel has previously spoken out against making vaccination itself mandatory.

According to Braun, cases are increasing by 60-percent per week and are expected to continue rising.

“If the Delta variant were to continue to spread at this rate and we don’t counter it with a very high vaccination-rate or change in behaviour, we would have an incidence of 850 [cases per 100,000 inhabitants] in just nine weeks,” he said.

Braun argued that introducing further restrictions for unvaccinated people would be legal since “the state has the responsibility to protect the health of its citizens” – triggering a debate even within Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.

The CDU candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor in September’s national elections, Armin Laschet, has opposed such measures.

“I do not believe in compulsory vaccination, and I do not believe in indirectly putting pressure on people to get vaccinated,” he told ZDF television.

“We have had a rule that you must be tested, vaccinated or recovered and I think that is a good principle,” Laschet said.

For his part, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Rolf Mützenich, warned that politicians are not going “to change the vaccination behaviour of individuals with threats”.

About 60 percent of Germany’s 83 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 jab, while just 48 percent are fully-vaccinated.

All jabs approved in the EU – BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson&Johnson – appeared to be effective against the Delta variant when both doses are administrated in the case of two-shot jabs.

Other countries like Italy, France, and Greece are trying to increase vaccination rates by imposing vaccine passport schemes or mandatory vaccination for certain workers, such as health and care staff.

Weekend protests

Those moves have sparked protests over the weekend.

Thousands gathered on Saturday in several French cities to speak out against the new Covid-19 restrictions for unvaccinated people and mandatory vaccination – with far-right activists and members of the ‘Yellow Vest’ movement clashing with police in Paris.

Similar rallies took place outside the Greek parliament in Athens for the third time this month, while large crowds took the streets in Dublin to protest against the introduction of vaccines passports.

As part of a so-called “Worldwide Rally for Freedom” campaign, protest against vaccine passports, wearing masks, and further lockdowns were organised in major cities across the world, including Sydney, London or Rome.

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Syrian Air Defenses Shot Down Rockets Launched Towards Damasсus Vicinity, Russian Military Says

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Middle East

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The Syrian government has repeatedly accused Israel of conducting regular airstrikes on its territory, calling on international organizations to denounce the attacks as violations of Syria’s sovereignty and introduce sanctions against the Jewish State.

Syrian air defense systems have destroyed two missiles fired by the Israeli F-16 fighter jets toward facilities in the Damascus region, Rear Adm. Vadim Kulit, the deputy head of the Russian Center for the Reconciliation of Warring Parties in Syria, said on Sunday.

This comes just after Russian-made Buk-M2E air defense systems downed all the rockets launched at the central Syrian province of Homs in the early hours of Thursday. The Russian military added that two Israeli F-16 fighters fired four guided missiles at several facilities in the Homs province. Syrian state media also attributed the strikes to the Israeli military, which never denied nor assumed responsibility for the attack.

According to the official, in the early hours of Sunday, two Israeli F-16 fighter jets conducted an airstrike against facilities in the Set Zaynab settlement, south of Damascus, without entering the Syrian airspace.

“Both missiles were destroyed by Russian Buk-M2E missile systems that are used by the Syrian military’s air defense forces,” Rear Adm. Vadim Kulit said.

On Monday, state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV reported that the Syrian air defense was repelling an air attack from Israel on the Syrian city of as-Safira in the Aleppo Governorate. The Russian military confirmed later that seven missiles fired by Israeli F-16s at Syria were destroyed by the Pantsir-S and Buk-M2 systems of the Syrian air defense.


©
Sputnik / Mikhail Fomichev

Air Defense soldiers during exercise, Ashuluk firing ground

While Israel avoids commenting on foreign reports, as it says, in December, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi did acknowledge that the Jewish State had conducted numerous attacks on Syrian territory to counter what he called Iran’s “retrenchment” in the Arab Republic.

It is also reported that Israel uses Lebanon’s airspace to launch strikes against Syria, while some of the rockets are launched from the occupied Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 war.



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Jehan Sadat obituary | Women’s rights and gender equality

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Jehan Sadat, who has died aged 88 of cancer, spent most of her life promoting social justice and women’s rights in Egypt. She continued to campaign decades after her husband, President Anwar Sadat, was assassinated, on 6 October 1981, by militants in the army avenging the imprisonment of fellow Islamists and condemning the 1978 Camp David accords that he had signed with Israel.

As a girl in Cairo, Jehan had explored the streets of her neighbourhood of Al-Manial, attributing her self-confidence to her supportive parents. She said that her fight against gender inequality started during her schooldays, when she was encouraged to focus on subjects such as sewing and cooking in preparation for marriage rather than the sciences that would lead to a university career. “I have always regretted that decision. I would never allow my daughters to close off their futures that way,” she wrote in her autobiography, A Woman of Egypt (1987).

Jehan had married Sadat in 1949 at the age of 15; a former army officer, he was twice her age and active in the fight against British control in Egypt. Three years later, he was a key player in the military coup that toppled King Farouk and later brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to the presidency. Sadat took a series of senior positions in the government and after Nasser’s death in 1970 was elected president.

President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, left, shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel, with Jimmy Carter looking on at the US presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, in 1978, before the announcement of the historic peace accords the following year.
President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, left, shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel, with Jimmy Carter looking on at the US presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, in 1978, before the announcement of the historic peace accords the following year. Photograph: Karl Schumacher/EPA

Jehan had begun her work for women’s rights in the years before she became first lady. She was vocal in condemning female genital mutilation and played a crucial role in the 1960s in the formation of a co-operative in the village of Talla in the Nile Delta that helped local women become skilled in sewing and therefore economically independent of their husbands.

She also headed SOS Children’s Villages, an organisation that provides homes for orphans in a family environment. In 1975 she led the Egyptian delegation to the UN international conference on women in Mexico City and to the 1980 conference in Copenhagen.

Most crucially, she was involved in a campaign to reform Egypt’s status law that would grant women new rights to divorce their husbands and retain custody of their children. The 1975 film Oridu Hallan (I Want a Solution), starring Faten Hamama, illustrated the struggles of Egyptian women under a conservative legal system that suppressed their rights.

“Over half our population are women, Anwar,” she told her husband, as she recorded in A Woman of Egypt. “Egypt will not be a democracy until women are as free as men.”

The attempts of some liberal clerics to defend the limited legal amendments supported by Jehan were undermined by the growing influence of Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. Despite the backlash from conservative Muslims, in the summer of 1979 her husband granted her wish and issued decrees improving the divorce status of women, as well as a second law that set aside 30 seats in parliament for women. These measures, which were later passed through parliament, became known as “Jehan’s laws”.

She was born Jehan Raouf in Cairo, into an upper-middle-class family, the third child of Safwat Raouf, an Egyptian surgeon, and his wife, Gladys Cotrell, a British music teacher, who had met in Sheffield when Safwat was studying medicine at the university. Jehan was raised as a Muslim, according to her father’s wishes, but she also attended a Christian secondary school for girls in Cairo.

She met Anwar at a summer party at her cousin’s house, not long after he was released from prison for the second time for his revolutionary activities; he was also recently divorced. The idealistic Jehan was impressed, despite her mother’s initial misgivings and the 15-year age gap. They married the following year, and went on to have four children.

In 1977 Anwar flew to Jerusalem to propose a peace settlement to the Israeli Knesset, and the following year he signed the Camp David accords, the first peace treaty between an Arab nation and Israel, with the prime minister Menachem Begin and the US president Jimmy Carter. Jehan, who was a far more visible first lady than President Nasser’s wife had been, later made a point of saying that she had stood by her husband even though the peace agreement was highly controversial in Egypt.

Jehan Sadat interviewed by Barbara Walters

While he had believed that the affection of the armed forces for him was such that they could not be infiltrated by militant Islamists, she later told the BBC: “I knew that he would be killed.” She begged him to wear a bullet-proof vest but he refused, and was proud of the new uniform that he had had designed for a military march-past on the outskirts of Cairo.

When people were looking up at the Egyptian air force planes flying in formation and doing aerobatics, Jehan noticed an army truck pulling out of the line of artillery vehicles and stopping in front of the reviewing stands. Then she saw soldiers with machine-guns running towards the stands. Her husband stood up, was riddled with bullets, and fell. The glass through which she and her grandchildren were watching was likewise splintered by bullets, and her bodyguard pushed her to the ground.

Jehan spoke of the shock of losing the man who was not only “my beloved husband whom I loved all my life, but … my partner”.

Her aspiration to higher education had eventually been realised, with a BA (1977) in Arabic literature and an MA (1980) in comparative literature at Cairo University, and she followed these with a PhD (1986). In later years she was a visiting professor at several US universities, and continued to promote international peace and women’s rights. A second book, My Hope for Peace, followed in 2009.

She is survived by her three daughters, Lubna, Noha and Jehan, her son, Gamal, and 11 grandchildren.

Jehan Sadat, women’s rights campaigner, human rights activist and writer, born 29 August 1933; died 9 July 2021

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