Jamaica battles UK drugs ‘mules’
By BBC News – Friday, 4 January, 2002
Copyright: BBC News
Jamaica has acknowledged the problems of drug trafficking into the UK and called for an international effort to tackle the problem.
The Jamaican High Commissioner in London, David Muirhead, responded after it was alleged that dozens of passengers on some flights to London from Kingston were drug mules.
The UK’s Deputy High Commissioner in Jamaica, Phil Sinkinson, said reports that one in 10 passengers were smugglers could even be an underestimation.
Mr Muirhead said talks were taking place with the UK Government to install new equipment to detect drugs on flights to Britain – and detection equipment was already being installed at Jamaica’s two airports.
“The Government of Jamaica recognises the serious problem of drug trafficking and has placed great emphasis upon and resources into tackling it,” Mr Muirhead said in a statement.
“However drug trafficking is a problem of international proportions and must be dealt with through international co-operation in a comprehensive and integrated manner.”
He pointed out that Jamaica itself did not produce cocaine, but the country was concerned at the “transhipment” of the drug through the island.
Mr Sinkinson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that most of the smugglers “come from areas of pretty desperate poverty”.
The problem has been blamed on the worsening economic situation on the Caribbean island.
“The risks are quite high but in real terms the rewards for the couriers are equally high,” he said.
Jamaica’s narcotics police have reportedly agreed and High Commission spokeswoman Mags Fenner reportedly told the Jamaica Observer newspaper that two recent incidents where dozens of Jamaicans were arrested on arrival in the UK were “completely average”.
Jamaican drug mules are reportedly paid between £2,000 (J$130,400) and £5,000 (J$335,000) for each trip.
A survey last year had reportedly shown that 65% of all drugs in the UK had come from Jamaica.
On 17 December 22 Jamaicans were charged with attempting to smuggle a Class A drug after disembarking from an Air Jamaica flight to Heathrow.
Five days earlier, 16 Jamaicans were arrested on suspicion of swallowing cocaine packages after arriving in Gatwick on a British Airways flight.
Lord Harris of the Metropolitan Police Authority told Today that the statistics suggested by Mr Sinkinson “were frankly unknowable”.
He added that it was important to remember that many of the smugglers, most of whom were women, were also victims.
“As far as the drug barons are concerned, the women who do this are totally expendable – that’s the really dreadful part of this trade,” he said.
According to the narcotics police, the number of drug mules has increased substantially over the past few years and it is not just Jamaicans who are involved.
The number of UK nationals imprisoned on drugs charges in Jamaica has risen from 20 in 1999 to 150 currently.
The BBC spoke to Jamaican women at Cookham Wood Prison in Kent, who had been caught smuggling drugs into the UK.
Some said they were forced to carry the narcotics, while others said poverty drove them to it.
Nearly all were single mothers, desperate for money.
One woman said she was told to swallow more than 160 condoms filled with cocaine, but gave up at 90.
Explaining what brought her to smuggle drugs, another woman said: “I have five kids and they need to go to school.
“Their father is in America and he sends no money. The only way to help them was to come to Britain with the drugs and get some money.”
She said she had asked the people who gave her the drugs about the danger of being caught and sent to prison but had been told not to worry.