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Transnational drug crime demands united front

The growth of transnational crime, especially drug smuggling, across the Pacific demands a regional response, an expert on international law enforcement says.

Jose Luis Sousa-Santos, the Managing Director of Strategika Group Asia Pacific (an international risk and security analysis group), said the risks transnational crimes are posing to the region are unlike anything it has faced before.

"Let’s not pretend behind the old cultural way of being proud and trying to deal with things ourselves," he said.

“If [drug smuggling] becomes endemic in the Pacific, people who are addicted to drugs, they won’t care about our islands; they’ll sell the islands for just a little bit of drugs. 

“World War II was your grandfather’s war, this is your war. This is the moment for the youth of the Pacific, if you don’t, your kids, your culture, your island, will fall.”  

He said transnational criminal syndicates would go to any lengths to protect their profits.

“[For] transnational criminal syndicates you are talking criminal business ventures; you are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of profits, some of the consignments coming through are billions of dollars worth of drugs," he said. 

“Southeast Asian criminal syndicates operate in countries such as [those in] the Pacific because they know our countries sometimes better than we do because they look for the weaknesses in our security measures; they will identify what is the easiest way to exploit the weaknesses in a country and they adapt faster than our responses and law enforcement.

“We have porous borders in the Pacific, very weak maritime patrol so it’s easy to move the drugs through, so of course they will use the Pacific to smuggle. 

"You have small police forces, small customs, Governments that are under duress sometimes and under-resourced so they are targeted by these large criminal syndicates who look for the loopholes.” 

 Mr. Sousa-Santos said previously the region was a thoroughfare for criminal syndicates to take drugs to two of the world's most lucrative drug markets: Australia and New Zealand with local populations feeling only a small overflow. 

But he says now the region is a growing drug market itself, specifically for methamphetamine. 

“One of the tactics that was previously used by drug smugglers is that we would see facilitators in the Pacific country that would assist in the movement of drugs through the Pacific Island countries towards Australia and New Zealand [who would] be paid a small percentage of the drugs that they move through," he said.

“To recoup their money, they would sell these drugs to the other locals and tourist.”

But returning criminal deportees from other countries has added a new dimension to drug smuggling market he said.

“They focused more on creating a local market where they were not focusing on the movement of drugs through the Pacific but on creating a local market, on bringing drugs into the region itself, small amounts of drugs but impacting the society in an immense way, such as in Fiji and Tonga," he said.

“Fiji is creating very robust legislation, and a cross-border response. Fiji has realised that [this] is the greatest threat currently to the Fijian state. 

“We should not just replicate what Fiji has done, but, as a region, we have to unite and it has to be a regional response and basically be robust and proactive in regards to the risk of transnational crime."

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