Drug trafficking and production are on the rise in the Pacific Islands, and Australia’s addiction to methamphetamine and cocaine is at the root of the problem, according to a report by the Lowy Institute.
- Australia and New Zealand pay some of the highest prices in the world for illicit drugs
- Lowy Institute report finds drug use and organized crime on the rise in Pacific nations
- He says deportation policies can exacerbate crime and drug addiction in the region
Illicit drug use has steadily increased in Australia and New Zealand, even as the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted supply chains, according to the report released today.
Drug trafficking in Australia is estimated at $11.3 billion a year.
The maritime corridor which is used for legitimate trade between Australian, Asian and American markets is also a key transit hub for organized crime syndicates and drug cartels, in what is known as the “highway of drugs” of the Pacific, according to the report.
This “highway”, he said, served a growing demand for illicit drugs in the Pacific islands.
“Over the past decade, the local population [Pacific] The drug market has grown, with facilitators being paid in drugs for services and then reselling them,” the report said.
“This has contributed to the rise of addiction among locals and the emergence of a local drug addiction network.”
In some cases, indigenous and local groups worked with international cartels to develop local production facilities.
“External organized crime actors have played a central role in establishing, fueling and sustaining the Pacific drug market and in growing local drug production and consumption,” the report states. .
“The prolific and high-profile organized crime networks of Australia and New Zealand – including outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCGs) – have expanded their activities offshore and into the Pacific.
“There has been a noticeable increase in the number of OMCG members traveling to the Pacific since 2016, most often to the Cook Islands and Fiji.”
Tonga – which was previously a transit point for drug trafficking to Australia and New Zealand – was experiencing a particularly dramatic increase in illegal drug use and associated problems, the report notes.
“Officials have reported that the increase in drug-related crime indicates the growing presence of methamphetamine in the kingdom and [that] correlated with an increase in drug-related crimes such as robberies and burglaries,” the report said.
Fiji has also seen drug-related police cases increase dramatically, from 148 in 2008 to 1,400 in 2018, the report notes.
In Papua New Guinea, there are no laws prohibiting the production, sale or use of methamphetamines, making it a key location for the transit of drugs to Australia.
The “lucrative” markets of Australia and New Zealand
Report author Jose Sousa-Santos said the market value of methamphetamine and cocaine in Australia and New Zealand was among the highest in the world.
He said that was because Australia and New Zealand were small, geographically isolated markets, driving prices up.
“These markets, to be so lucrative, are of interest to transnational criminal organizations that traffic drugs to the Pacific,” he said.
“They need facilitators in the Pacific to help them with their operations and in transporting the drugs into the region, and the way that is done is to have these criminal syndicates supported by a local drug market. drug.
The report also found that cross-border efforts to combat drug trafficking had been undermined by a disconnect between regional and national law enforcement agencies, and the disparity in capacity between agencies, which had eroded trust and confidence. information sharing between them.
“In a region plagued by ‘unresolved development challenges’, transnational crime and illicit drugs pose a cross-cutting threat to development, security and governance in the Pacific,” the report said.
Meanwhile, “narco-corruption” in the Pacific “has compromised institutions and individuals in key agencies, such as customs, police and immigration, and undermined the rule of law”.
Deportation policy ‘exacerbates’ problem
The report also found that the deportation policies of Australia, New Zealand and the United States “exacerbate crime and drug abuse in Pacific countries” by sending convicted criminals back to their countries of origin. without rehabilitation.
“Many times these deportees have spent most of their lives outside their home country and grew up in Australia, New Zealand or the United States,” Sousa-Santos said.
“When they are sent back, they are sent back with no cultural understanding, no language skills from those countries…support networks to welcome them or job prospects.
“So many of them tend to go back to their criminal contacts in Australia, New Zealand and the United States and create a supposed underground economy and power structures that they can fit into.”
In 2019, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Australia not to “deport your problems”, saying the Australian government must stop sending convicted felons back to New Zealand who had spent most of their life in Australia.
Mr Sousa-Santos said this could be addressed by providing holistic support to integrate deportees, including “drug rehabilitation, some type of job training, language and cultural training prior to return”.
He said it was important “that we support initiatives to return to the country to which they are deported in order to ensure that they can reintegrate into society”.
Footing the bill for these kinds of initiatives, he said, would save the economies where the drugs were headed “tenfold” in the long run.
The ABC has contacted Australian Broader Force for comment.
The response must be “rapid, proactive and adaptive”
Australia and New Zealand, together with their Pacific partners, have stepped up initiatives to tackle drug production and transnational crime, but, the report warns, a “one size fits all” approach would not work for the region.
“The response of Pacific states and traditional partners must be rapid, proactive and adaptive,” the report notes.
A spokesman for the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said that while the drug market in Australia was strong, the ability of law enforcement to work together against organized crime had never been stronger.
“Stopping crime at the source is a key strategy for AFP and partnerships with Pacific police organizations result in a more hostile environment for criminal activity,” an AFP spokesperson said.
“The Pacific Transnational Crime Network (PTCN) is an AFP-supported, Pacific-led, transnational criminal intelligence network for Pacific law enforcement, whose goal is to increase the capacity of law enforcement order of the Pacific Islands to detect, investigate and disrupt transnational crime in the region.
“The offshore disruption of criminal groups and the infiltration of organized crime is a key part of our role and part of the solution.”