In a scrapyard that looks somewhat like an ammunition depot in north-western Syria, nine-year-old Malik is busy arranging blank mortar shells that his family dismantle for iron parts and sell to make a living.
Hassan Junaid, 37, who runs a scrapyard in the town of Maarat Misrin along with his brothers, south of Idlib, told Agence France-Presse (AFP): “The tools of murder and crime with which people were bombed have become a source of livelihood.”
Three children are resting on the back of a rusty truck at the scrapyard while having fun with blank mortar shells. A few metres away, another child struggles to carry a projectile that weighs almost more than he does. As soon as he reaches his destination in the yard, gasping for air, he throws the object onto a pile of ammunition and iron.
In 2016, Junaid fled the battles and raids in northern Hama and moved with his extended family to Maarat Misrin. When their displacement was prolonged, Junaid, a father of four, including Malik, decided to resume his profession selling scrap materials from abandoned cars, iron plaques, water tanks, and all kinds of objects made from iron.
However, in Maarat Misrin, Junaid started trading in a new type of scrap metal, including shells and ammunition used by the regime forces and the fighting factions during the battles.
Junaid added: “When I came here, we found out a new way to expand our business, by selling the shells that were fired by the regime forces but did not explode.”
Today Junaid works with 15 members of his family in the vast scrapyard, as they managed to acquire enough experience to dismantle these shells, Junaid explains.
Sometimes, Junaid and his staff receive calls from civilians who want to sell unexploded shells they found near their homes. Other times, they go to areas where bombings or clashes took place to search among the rubble for ammunition or bullets.
Junaid’s family dismantles the shells and ammunition, extracting the explosive materials, before transporting the objects safely to the scrapyard for sale.