Corruption and poor border control a recipe for drug trafficking, says UN

Some 459 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine on a table at the Narcotics Suppression Bureau Bangkok, in Thailand

A United Nations report has found that drug trafficking is growing in East and Southeast Asia faster than law enforcement agencies can tackle it. The report made specific references to Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan, noting flaws in law enforcement, border controls and ineffective anti-corruption initiatives.

However, the local government says law enforcement remains tough in the war on drugs.

At a recent Legislative Assembly plenary session, Secretary for Security Wong Sio Chak said that black market drug prices were on average threefold that in Hong Kong, crediting the difference to the crackdown on supply in Macau.

Wong said that the vigilance of local law enforcement agencies had constricted the supply.

Meanwhile, during his visit to Macau this week, deputy director of the National Drug Control Commission of China, Andy Tsang, said he was confident that his home city of Hong Kong was already tracking down the mastermind behind a network thought to be using teenagers to sell narcotics.

“The drug market is flooded with supply. […] Unless we’re successful in reducing demand, the criminals will be there to exploit the situation and take advantage of it. Using teenage couriers is certainly something that they were trying,” said Tsang.

The report also highlighted the influence of the casino sector, noting that such venues are hotspots for organized crime.

“Southeast Asia has an organized crime problem, and it is time to coalesce around solutions to address the conditions that have allowed illicit businesses to grow, and to secure and cooperate along borders,” said Jeremy Douglas, a regional representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, as cited by the Associated Press.

Douglas said the methamphetamine market is worth more than $60 billion. Facilitated by organized crime, the market has expanded since a 2013 study found the its value was $15 billion.

“You can buy methamphetamine in Bangkok for $2 a pill. It’s basically a price of a quart of milk,” said Douglas.

Psychological counselor and coordinator of the Association of Rehabilitation of Drug Abusers of Macao (ARTM) Erick Cheung has previously told the Times that the theme of this year’s UN anti-narcotics action is “Justice for Health, Health for Justice,” which emphasizes that in combating the use of addictive narcotics, both health and justice are of equal importance.

More studies have shown that treating narcotic addiction as a health problem is more effective than as a crime, as users are more willing to reach for help. In Portugal, narcotic use being decriminalized has been a topic of study. Narcotic users in Portugal are more willing to reach for medical support to combat narcotic use.

Indeed, treating narcotic addiction in a medical approach is agreed by the UN.

The same reports also noted that cartels in the region are also in trafficking of other things, including people.

The UN report wrote, “migrants are often subjected to debt bondage, physical violence, and other forms of exploitation” and it noted that there are “gaps in the official data.”

Douglas said governments in Southeast Asia should implement more effective recruitment and migration management systems, adding that governments should also raise awareness of vulnerable populations at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking. Staff reporter

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