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Home > Community
 
Illegal trade thrives in the shadows

Lily B. Libo-on & 
Afkar Abdullah / 17 July 2012

The dark alleys and street corners in Al Nahda 1 have turned into a hub of illegal activities these days and families say the area is becoming unsafe for them to reside.

The area near a well-known restaurant, a pharmacy and a supermarket is where the suspicious men gather. “By 4pm, men gather in the alleys and give you dirty looks. We do not feel safe,” said several residents, who refuse to be identified for fear of reprisals from these men who sell banned tobacco products and phone call credits to people waiting in cars, taxis and vans.

Jigna S., a resident of the area, said the men would approach any car that slows down or stops in the area for a short time. “They offer the people inside all sorts of banned items like gutka (chewing tobacco), betel leaves and supari (arecanut mix),” she said.

Workers of shops around the area said mobile phone recharging and cheap international calls are also on offer. “You can see many men standing along a street and offering this service to people until 11pm,” they said.

Modus operandi

The modus operandi of this syndicate, which mostly includes Asians, starts in the afternoon during which their usual clients come in taxis, private cars and vans and stop along the lane where they are operating, putting the hazard signal on.

Two of more than a dozen standing on roadside will approach the cars, whose drivers or owners will roll down the window glass and enter into a bargain. They order the stuff they want and give money to these agents.

Some offer brands and flavours of chewing tobacco like Panparag, Zarda, Altunsa, Katha and Afzal. Another group offers cheap international calls and mobile phone credits to passersby. In another place nearby, a third group offering liquor bottles also waits for their clients.

Local resident Robert M. said bootlegging is also rampant. Towards the late afternoon, the agents wait in the street corners. “When you approach them, they will give you the mobile number of the person to contact for delivering alcohol bottles,” he said.

He said banned items, liquor bottles and drugs are delivered between 8pm and 11pm in dark alleys and sandy areas used by people for parking vehicles for free.

Newly constructed buildings, which do not have electricity connection yet and no lights, make several alleys dark, helping these people to continue their illegal trades.

Another resident of Al Nahda, who requested anonymity, urged the authorities to address this issue immediately. “Even taxi drivers know the ‘kacha’ (sandy) parking lot after a pharmacy and a few other shops where the trades happen. I believe this syndicate is using some of the newly constructed buildings as the base camps. These illegal activities have been continuing for a long time and have become a serious threat to the residents here,” he said.

Al Nahda 1 is the border of Sharjah and Dubai. Hence, it has become the favourite lair of those operating in the illegal trades. “If the Sharjah Police come, it is easy for them to scamper to the Dubai side to avoid arrest,” said Mohammed Ali, a resident.

Municipality warns of penalties

Omar Al Sharji, Head of Security and Inspections at the Sharjah Municipality, said they  are aware about the activities and have already seized large quantity of banned tobacco from Rolla and Al Ghuwair areas.

The inspections are continuing to cover all areas to curb such activities which affect public health. The municipality held a meeting with labour, immigration and police departments recently for coordinating efforts to curb the activities.

The municipal inspectors and the police are working around the clock to catch those who sell banned tobacco products on the streets, Al Sharji said. Most of those who were captured were illegal residents and some others were working in companies during daytime and sell the banned products in the evening to make some extra money.

He warned that whoever is caught indulging in such illegal trades will be referred to the court on the charges selling banned and illegal products, trading without a licence and using residential and industrial areas for the sale.

The municipality will impose fines up to Dh500 on the offender for the first time and the fine would double for each repeated offence.

Chewing tobacco and paan badly affects health, and defaces the city when people spit on the streets and walls, and in parks and public areas, the official said.

Asked how these products enter the country, he said that the traders smuggle them into the country through various entry points. Joint and intensified inspections are being conducted at the ports of entry to seize illegal goods like tobacco and the police and immigration officers are cracking down on illegal workers.

The general public can report such illegal activities that affect the stability and security of residential areas on hotline number 993. Parents must inform the municipality and the police if they discover that their children are buying such products from groceries or shops.

POLICE ACTION

Brigadier Abdullah Mubarak Al Dukhan, Deputy Director of the Sharjah Police, said the police, in coordination with the departments concerned had rounded up more than 2000 illegals last month. The majority of the arrested had been involved in illegal businesses like selling banned tobacco, counterfeit goods or pornographic films.

“They were living in abandoned buildings, workshops, dilapidated houses and sites that were under construction. We are taking strict action against such offenders because they are threatening the security of our society, and are most likely to commit crimes,” said Brig Al Dukhan. He urged the public to cooperate with the police and inform them about illegal residents in their neighbourhoods.

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