x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Dubai police train regional drugs task force

Anti-narcotics unit trains Middle Eastern counterparts to establish a region-wide effort to combat smuggling.

The Dubai police anti-narcotics unit is training its Middle Eastern counterparts to establish a region-wide effort to combat drug smuggling and abuse. The campaign, known as Hemaya, or protection, was organised in collaboration with Dubai police, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Right Start Foundation International to counter drug smuggling by sharing information, a senior Dubai police official said.

The anti-narcotics unit will train forces from Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, Yemen and the Palestinian Territories through a series of workshops to be held in Dubai. The first of these took place this week. "The anti-narcotics unit in Dubai has the experience and the expertise to train other forces in the Middle East and to take the fight to smugglers and users," said Lt Salem Mohammed Hassen, who is training the Iraqi police force on surveillance techniques.

The heroin industry is valued at US$64.82 billion (Dh238bn) annually, 90 per cent of which originates from Afghanistan. The overwhelming majority of the drug is trafficked through Dubai, according to Interpol, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and UNODC. However, they say new trade routes through Iraq have emerged. To cut off new routes into the Middle East from Afghanistan via Iran, Lt Hassen said it was vital that the Iraqi police force was up to speed on the latest technology and methods required to halt the trade in heroin.

"The Iraqi police force will be first to train due to its geographical location and the importance of its border," he said. "This would require strategic co-operation on all levels and the sharing of information between police units in the region." Maj Gen Khamis Mattar al Mazinah, the deputy chief of Dubai police, said the regional police forces would be trained in intelligence gathering, strategic planning, operational management, surveillance and laboratory work.

"This multibillion-dollar industry requires highly sophisticated networks, people and technology," Gen Mazinah said. Meanwhile, the opium harvest in Afghanistan continues unabated, say UNODC officials. Despite these challenges, however, police and customs officials are upbeat about the war on drugs. "All recent indicators show we are winning the war on the drug traders, and that's why they are seeking alternative routes into the Middle East," said a senior Dubai police spokesman.

Last month, six high-profile drug seizures were announced in Dubai. Three of the cases involved attempts to smuggle heroin through port customs, while the other discoveries were made after investigations by the police's narcotics unit. There are about 80 drug seizures in the Emirates annually, and Dubai police officials have warned that the city could remain a target for traffickers because of its geographical location and relaxed attitude to trade.

In addition, recent UNODC reports said Dubai would remain a transient point because figures showed an increase in heroin use in the Middle East. Dubai is not only believed to be a transshipment point for traffickers; drugs are also smuggled in and distributed, as recent high-profile drug seizures have demonstrated. In 2007, undercover officers arrested a drug dealer in possession of seven kilograms of heroin worth Dh2.2 million. Earlier that year, two men and a woman were sentenced to life in prison for supplying drugs in Dubai. Police arrested two Nigerian women for selling marijuana to undercover officers in a Dubai district in June.

As part of its anti-drugs initiative, Dubai police, with the UNODC, launched a rehabilitation programme in 2007 to help 5,000 addicts in the Arab world and the UAE. The Hemaya programme had previously focused on raising awareness through events and workshops in youth and social clubs across the Middle East. @Email:shafez@thenational.ae