• 21 July 2017

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    Category : Reportage

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    EU-ACT: fighting the “heroin routes”

    The project has a budget of €12 million and will cover 30 countries in four years to combat the destructive and massive heroin business

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    The heroin routes that originate in Asia (Source: UNODC)

    For decades Afghanistan has been positioning itself as the primary international exporter of heroin, a deadly drug associated with the proliferation of organised crime and a massive business that moves billions of euros annually.

     

    Producing 4,800 tonnes of opium in 2016 and with more than 200,000 hectares under cultivation, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the country is situated at the nerve centre of the zone known as the Golden Crescent (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran), the origin of most of the opiates consumed in Europe.

     

    In line with the EU Drugs Strategy 2013-2020, this week the EU-ACT Action Against Drugs and Organised Crime project was launched, in Brussels, as the third phase of an initiative that fights drug trafficking and organised crime in relation to two contexts:

     

    Supply reduction: this involves strengthening legal and transnational police cooperation to attack the major drug trafficking networks.

    Demand reduction: efforts are also aimed at prevention of drug consumption and improvement of drug addiction treatment.

     

    Both fronts are essential. As explained by the leader of the project, Thomas Carter, “they are two sides of the same coin: there needs to be equilibrium between repressive policies that pursue trafficking and organised crime and those focussed on demand reduction”.

     

    More than thirty countries

    From Afghanistan, the Heroin Route traditionally crossed the Balkans to reach Europe. However, pathways have multiplied and now pass through some thirty countries using various routes:

     

    Balkans Route: This links Afghanistan with Iran and then passes through Turkey. It is the shortest distance and the most direct overland route to European consumption markets. It has been used since the 1980s.

    Southern Route: in recent years, large heroin shipments loaded in the ports of Iran and Pakistan have attracted attention.

    Northern Route: from northern Afghanistan, heroin is sent to the large consumption markets of Central Asia, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

    Caucasus Route: drugs produced in the Golden Crescent are transported from Iran to Turkey, passing through Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

    South Route: this passes through East Africa to reach the EU from the south.

     

    The project focusses on more than 30 beneficiary countries with very different needs and five strategic zones: Central Asia, Southern Caucasus, Ukraine, Asia and East Africa.

     

    Spanish Civil Guard colonel and project co-director Manuel Marión highlights the flexibility of the initiative: “One of the most acute needs of Kyrgyzstan is to train prosecutors and police in using special investigative techniques aimed at drugs, such as controlled deliveries”.

     

    Nonetheless, “it may happen that Tanzania needs to learn about the European experience with coastal surveillance, because the heroin arrives on ships” indicates Marión.

     

    Law enforcement and legal action are generally conducted at the national level, which makes it difficult to eradicate a global phenomenon like this one. Therefore the project places special emphasis on coordination between the police forces of all the drug-transit countries. Transnational and transregional cooperation is essential.

     

    A billion-euro business

    Tom Carter describes one of the main difficulties in eradicating heroin trafficking: corruption. “We’re talking about billions of euros, and the issue is that the closer it is to the market, the more money is involved and the more expensive the product is. For example, one kilo of opium may cost €2,000 in Afghanistan and over time, as it approaches Europe, this may reach €25,000 to €40,000”.

     

    “It’s a massive and invasive business. It moves so much money that it easily corrupts. A police officer or customs agent in any country outside Europe, for example in Central Asia or Africa, is very tempted when someone offers €200 to not open a truck”. It is a question of investing in development because “in a country undermined by corrupt officials in its institutions, the project becomes useless”, explains Carter.

     

    The key: influencing policies

    One of the main objectives of the project is to help the authorities and security forces of these countries to identify and pursue the major traffickers who handle large quantities of drugs.

     

    However, work is being done in parallel to find alternatives to prison, such as drug treatment. “We have neither the budget nor the time to fix everything, but we can contribute our experiences from the perspective of the EU. Perceptions must be changed so that people see a drug addict as a victim and not as a criminal”, explains Carter.

     

     

    For the next four years, FIIAPP will be managing this project, which has a budget of €12,000,000 funded by the European Commission, and will be implemented by experts from Spain’s Ministry of the Interior, Italy’s Carabinieri and the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA).

    The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the sole responsibility of its author.