x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UAE has its own drugs problem, official says

The UAE faces a growing domestic drugs problem, on top of dealing with international traffickers, according to a senior Dubai Customs official.

DUBAI // The UAE faces a growing domestic drugs problem, on top of dealing with international traffickers, according to a senior Dubai Customs official. "I would not shut my mouth and say we don't have drug problems here," said Mohammed al Marri, the executive director of cargo operations. "Yes, we do have them." Mr al Marri was speaking after The National was given a tour of Dubai Customs' operations at Jebel Ali, the largest port in the region and the gateway for most of the nine million containers that enter Dubai each year by sea.

The problem, he said, was an unfortunate side-effect of the country's success: "The numbers of people who are living here are not like the number who were living here 10 years ago, so that has had an impact, that's for sure." According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the UAE's population nearly doubled between 1995 and 2005. "We have more than 140 nationalities living in this country, each one of them coming with their own backgrounds and their own traditions and heritage.

"I would say that is one of the major reasons for seeing an increase in quantities [of illegal drugs] coming." The problem, said Mr al Marri, was compounded by political instability elsewhere in the region. "We know areas in the neighbouring countries are not quite governed by the local governments, and the land has been used for producing major volumes." A report released in February by the UN's International Narcotics Control Board named the Emirates as "major exporting and trans-shipping area" for drugs such as amphetamines and heroin.

Mr al Marri expressed reservations over the report, saying there had been "minimal communication" between Dubai Customs and the UN agency that had compiled it. "The way forward is sitting together and closing the gaps, not by pointing fingers at each other," he said. Since the release of the report, UAE authorities have given increasing publicity to the efforts to counter drug-smuggling. In the past three months there have been several large seizures.

In April, Ahmad Ibrahim Saif, the Chief Justice of the Dubai Criminal Court, said most cases dealt with by the court since September had been drug-related. hnaylor@thenational.ae