x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Yemen calls for aid in drug war

Yemen is facing both an increase in trafficking through the country and a growing number of citizens using drugs.

Hashish and amphetamines burn in Sana'a.
Hashish and amphetamines burn in Sana'a.

SANA'A // Yemen yesterday criticised its neighbours for not doing enough to help it fight a war against drugs that is threatening to swamp the country. The move was echoed by UN representatives in the country who say Yemen is facing both an increase in drug trafficking through the country and a growing number of citizens using drugs. To demonstrate the problem, police yesterday destroyed a stockpile of drugs seized over the past 16 months - 4.5 tonnes of hashish and more than 6.3 million amphetamine tablets with a total market value of US$38 million (Dh140m).

"We are trying our best to fight this crime with our own facilities; we have got also co-ordination with the neighbouring countries which are the main target for traffickers as well as some foreign countries and the UN," said Masa'ab al Sufi, deputy head of the anti-drugs department at the interior ministry. "However, this level of co-operation is not as it should be. "Yemen is the shield facing the targets of traffickers in order to protect its neighbours who should look into this issue and raise the level of co-operation and support to Yemen to crack down on drugs and smugglers and dealers," he said.

Mr al Sufi did not dismiss the possibility that large quantities of drugs pass through Yemen and reach the Gulf States, mainly Saudi Arabia. "We would be mistaken to think traffickers are isolated people; they are organised gangs that develop techniques for smuggling." Drug trafficking is active in Yemen's border provinces, including Hadramaut, Sa'ada, Shabwa and al Mahra. These areas are considered transit points for drugs brought from Pakistan and India.

Despite the efforts made, the impoverished nation is finding it difficult to cope with the increase in trafficking and smugglers' improved techniques. "This is a huge amount [of drugs] and could have devastating consequences for society at large and Yemen's neighbours," said Ali al Zubaidi, chief of the country's customs authority. "Whenever security people discover their routes and means of trafficking, they develop new ways.

"The X-ray systems we have at main customs checkpoints have helped a lot in discovering drugs. However, we have found that traffickers have adopted means that we would never think about." Mr al Sufi said last year there was a boom in drug trafficking and that Yemen was being used as a transit point. He said the increase was due to a rise in demand for drugs from Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia.

"Drugs started to become a nagging problem in Yemen only during the last few years due to the increase of drug trafficking through Yemen to the Gulf and some African countries," he said. However, a UN official thinks Yemen is no longer just a thoroughfare for narcotics, but is developing an internal drug problem. "Yemen is no longer the only transit point; that was four years ago. We are concerned that it is already reaching young people and this is a serious problem," said Noaman al Massoudi, a consultant at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Sana'a.

Mr al Massoudi said his office is offering help to Yemen, but said more was needed. "We are offering technical support to Yemen; we train people involved in fighting against drugs trafficking including security and prosecution officers. However, Yemen still needs the UN and neighbouring countries' support because despite all their efforts, trafficking does still exist and is on the rise," said Mr al Massoudi.

The anti-drugs department report registered an increase in drug-related offences from 45 crimes and 86 suspects in 2005 to 140 crimes and 226 suspects in 2007. It said the number of Yemenis suspected of involvement in drug trafficking increased from 81 in 2005 to 204 in 2007. It also said more than 500 people were charged with drug dealing in the country in the last three years. Police charged 75 people - 47 Yemenis, 12 Pakistanis, 10 Iranians, two Syrians, two Saudis, an Eritrean and Ethiopian - in connection to the drugs that were destroyed.

malqadhi@thenational.ae