23/Jul/2014 - Last News Update: 21:50

UK could become 'smuggling hub' for herbal high khat

Category: Headlines

Published: 26th Jan 2012 01:00:44

The UK could become a hub for smuggling the herbal stimulant khat, European police and politicians have warned.

The Netherlands is the latest country to outlaw the sale of the plant, which is now banned in sixteen EU member states and Norway.

Khat is freely sold in the UK and observers say the UK's isolated stance could make it the main base for Europe's khat trade.

The British government has commissioned a new review of khat use.

Until announcing its ban earlier this month, the Netherlands was similar in its stance to the UK where the East African plant is legally imported, sold and consumed.

In 2005 the UK Home Office commissioned a report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) which concluded that "the evidence of harm resulting from khat use is not sufficient to recommend its control."

In the UK, the drug is mainly consumed by people of Somali and Yemeni origin and the ACMD report concluded there was "no evidence of its spread to the general population."

Gerd Leers, Immigration and Integration Minister in the Netherlands, says he already has enough evidence of social harm caused by the drug to support a ban, which will come into force from June this year.

Those who argue against a ban don't know about the community and they can't see all the damage it is doing to families and individuals”

Mark Lancaster, MP for Milton Keynes North, argued that khat should be outlawed in Britain in a speech he made in Parliament earlier this month.

But others say that making khat a controlled drug could lead to further problems.

"What worries me about the Netherlands is that once these legal Somali traders are criminalised and have their livelihood taken away from them - what are they going to do next?" says Axel Klein, an expert witness for the ACMD's 2005 report.

"They have contacts, trading skills, financial acumen so it is very possible that they will start trafficking the khat and then diversify into harder drugs.

"This is our main concern when looking at the UK as well.

"Do we really want to create the opportunity for an organised crime syndicate to start-up from nowhere with long term consequences by banning khat?"

Hear more on The Report on Radio 4 on Thursday, 26 January at 20:00 GMT. You can listen again on the Radio 4 website or by downloading the podcast

Mr Klein argues that khat is chewed mainly by older men in the Somali diaspora and the practice will die out - rather like snuff has done in the UK.

But British-Somali Muna Hassan is not so sure. She blames khat use for inducing her younger brother's paranoid schizophrenia.

He has lived in the UK since the age of five and had a bright future ahead of him, studying at university, when he then started chewing khat.

"The Somali community has a unified voice on this," she told Radio 4's The Report.

"Those who argue against a ban don't know about the community and they can't see all the damage it is doing to families and individuals. We know," she says.

Eleni Palazidou, a psychiatrist who has worked with the Somali community in east London, agrees.

"For me it is a drug - no two ways about it.

"Every patient that I have seen who chews khat, I have seen them worsening and it is impossible to get their condition under control.

"What khat does to the brain is similar to amphetamines. I think heavy, regular use is dangerous.

I have no doubt that khat has a major adverse effect on people's mental health and does cause psychological problems," she told The Report.

The Netherlands' ban has been welcomed by Dutch citizens like Dagmar Oudshoorn, mayor of the village of Uithoorn, near Schipol, who says the khat trade has been a blight on her community.

"Four times a week 200 cars arrive with people who want to buy khat and they fight - we had stabbing incidents - and they leave rubbish everywhere.

"We want to refurbish our business area but because of the bad environment we lose investors and customers," she told the BBC.

Neighbouring states, where the drug has long been illegal, have also put pressure on the Dutch government in The Hague because they have seen a sharp increase in khat trafficking from Holland.

For Europe's Nordic countries, much of the khat arrives by truck across the Oresund bridge between Denmark and southern Sweden.

Swedish police estimate that 200 tonnes is smuggled into the country each year, with a street value of 150 euros (£125/$190) a kilo.

With the Eurotunnel you can get from London to Malmo in 15 hours. Britain will become the new hub in Europe that is for certain”

After years of lobbying, Swedish MEP Olle Schmidt admits he was pleasantly surprised by the Dutch move to ban khat.

"There is a shift in the Netherlands. They no longer want to be seen as a liberal country where tourists can come to smoke pot and buy drugs.

"Now, of course, khat will come more extensively to the London airports and then be smuggled to the rest of Europe, because you can earn a lot of money with this drug," warns Mr Schmidt.

Stefan Kalman, a senior detective in the Swedish drug squad, says customs officers catch smugglers on the border several times a week.

"The couriers often have accidents because they drive so fast", he says.

"Sometimes they shoot past the border controls without stopping because they are nervous - khat is quite bulky and you cannot conceal it like other drugs."

They are also in a rush because the drug has to be consumed when it is fresh.

Cathinone, one of the psychoactive agents in khat leaves, is highly unstable and loses its potency within three days of harvesting.

With the door slammed shut in Holland, smugglers will turn to the UK despite the longer distances says Detective Kalman.

"With the Eurotunnel you can get from London to Malmo in 15 hours. Britain will become the new hub in Europe that is for certain."

The British government has commissioned a new review of khat use - the date of its publication is still to be confirmed.

The Report is one BBC Radio 4 Thursday, 26 January at 20:00 GMT. Listen via the Radio 4 website or download the programme podcast.

Source:
BBC News External Link Show Citation

Latest News

Harvard Citation

BBC News, 2012. UK could become 'smuggling hub' for herbal high khat [Online] (Updated 26th Jan 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/220828/UK-could-become-smuggling-hub-for-herbal-high-khat [Accessed 23rd Jul 2014]

News In Other Categories

  • Bristol Academy extends reach overseas with first foreign students

    With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
  • Charlotte Dujardin leads Great Britain's bid for honours at Worlds

    Double Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin riding Valegro will lead Great Britain's dressage team at the World Equestrian Games in France next month.
  • Obituary: Dora Bryan

    Dora Bryan was a talented character actress who could turn her hand to everything from musicals to Shakespeare, farce to tragedy.
  • Man fined for swallowing goldfish on film

    A 20-year-old man from Suffolk has been fined £200 after he was filmed swallowing two goldfish as part of a 'Neknominate' online dare.
  • Facebook reports 138% surge in profits

    Facebook has announced a 138% rise in net income for the second quarter to $791m (£464m).
  • Facebook reports 138% surge in profits

    Facebook has announced a 138% rise in net income for the second quarter to $791m (£464m).