The Dutch Government is bringing in emergency measures to tackle the sharp rise in drug smuggling through Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.
The move follows public outrage after it was revealed that instead of being locked up, some drugs couriers arrested at the airport have been released with a court summons because of a shortage of prison cells.
Prime Minister Wim Kok said that until now it had been too easy for drugs smugglers to get into the planes and that all flights must be so tightly controlled that the drugs couriers won’t want to come through Schiphol.
Customs officials estimate that up 25,000 drug couriers passed through Schiphol last year, and only 1,200 were arrested.
But that number was a 60% increase over the year 2000.
Last month, six cocaine smugglers detained at the airport were released in error by overworked officials.
Now the so-called Schiphol team of airport police and customs will get 100 extra men.
The government also wants to build a 350-cell prison at Ossendrecht barracks near the Belgian border.
Justice Minister Benk Korthals has been heavily criticised by MPs for not bringing drastic measures in sooner.
Politicians want a guarantee that no more drugs couriers will walk away after being arrested.
“This is the most difficult problem for me – I hope that we don’t send away any prisoners,” said Mr Korthals.
“It is not orthodox, but it is a very far going measure I take, everyone can see that we have a very big problem.”
Mr Korthals will have some tough questions to answer when parliament debates the issue next week.
Soft drugs can be bought legally and used in small quantities in the Netherlands.
But the maximum sentence for importing hard drugs is 12 years imprisonment.
Most smugglers come from the Dutch Antilles, in the Caribbean, and transport drugs by swallowing them in condoms.
The new measures target these couriers in particular and include new scanning equipment at Dutch Caribbean airports, extra prison guards and cells on the islands and even withdrawing the passports of Dutch and Dutch Caribbean nationals who are arrested.
The BBC’s Geraldine Coughlan in The Hague says that if Minister Korthals can convince parliament that his new package of measures is enough to tackle Schiphol airport’s smuggling problem, he may be able to save his political skin and perhaps turn this crisis to his advantage ahead of general elections in May.
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