02 June 2011


The link between immigration and drug trafficking is a real one in two cases:


·         One: the immigrants are poor, “ghettoised”, and generally excluded from mainstream society and economic advancement (some French “banlieues” are well known examples but there are plenty more in other EU countries). The trade in drugs – mainly cannabis – is then part of a counter-culture with its own rules and hierarchies. Violence and gang formation are often features of daily life and the rule of law is largely irrelevant. Such areas are “ethnic” in so far as the rules and culture of the host country are seen as inaccessible and forms of social control from the culture of origin apply to a greater or lesser extent. This in turn gives rise to resentment in the native population and the rest is all too familiar.

·         The second link between immigration and drug trafficking is when people move country for the purpose of committing crimes. This category is of limited interest to us as it is not part of the immigration issue overall but basically a form of cross-border crime.


Many countries are coy about publishing prison population statistics broken down by country of origin but there are strong indications that immigrants are generally over-represented in many European prisons. It is equally true to say that lack of education, social exclusion, dysfunctional home backgrounds, etc. determine the origin of prisoners in general. Immigrants often fall into all of these categories. It says more about the host country’s policies of dealing with immigration than about the immigrants.


So what is the relevance of immigration policy to drug policy?


Both policies now have a considerable body of data and analysis at their disposal yet remain trapped in sensational media reporting and irresponsible political statements and gestures, especially during election time.

Just like drugs have been called a “plague” and a “scourge” even in legal documents, immigration is always “massive” and likely to “overwhelm” our societies. So, as with drugs, the response is to play on the fear thus created and to “combat” the “ruthless gangs” of people smugglers. This involves the deployment of semi-military assets, building of fences (in Eastern Greece, with help from Frontex), etc.


The unintended consequences (sic) of EU immigration policies - and the pressures they put on North African countries to cooperate in return for aid - include growing xenophobia in North Africa with regard to sub-Saharan migrants, arbitrary arrests and forced return, also of political fugitives. Until the present uprising,Libya was both a major transit and final destination country. It should be noted that before the Arab Spring began Italy andLibya had agreements wherebyItaly trained Libyan police and allowed it to import military hardware officially destined to improve border controls. In return Libya made life harder for sub-Saharan migrants.


As with drug policy, these and other measures led to pop-up effects: crossing points in the Mediterranean diversified and multiplied. As with drugs, most immigrants come toEurope by fairly mundane means (hiding in trucks, or just taking a ferry) rather than being smuggled across the sea in ways that grab the headlines.


The final shame is that Europe, with its ageing population, low birth rate, and under increasing pressure to keep its labour costs down, is in real need of the cheap labour that immigrants provide (particularly illegal immigrants). In areas like construction, care services and agriculture there is a growing acceptance by domestic trade unions and public authorities that the demand for immigrant labour will go up rather than down. For politicians in some countries to continue to ignore the need for regular immigration leads to a toxic mix: immigrant communities are “ghettoized” or “negrofied” while the domestic populations that depend on them to maintain their standard of living resent the presence of people who “don’t belong here”. As with drug policy, the evidence to change the policy is there. The political will is not.


Europe is the product of centuries of immigration. Each wave brought new blood and new energy. To go against the current of history is a dead end. It is a sad comment on Europe’s state today that a country like the Netherlands, an historical safe haven if ever there was one, is turning away from evidence-based drug policy at the same time as it makes deals with the most right wing and xenophobic political party it has known in more than 50 years.    


I dedicate this post to Mohamed El Baktet, my Brussels pharmacist, a professional man.



17:45 Posted by Carel Edwards in Drugs and politics | Permalink | Comments (2) | Tags: drug and immigration policies |  Facebook

26 May 2011

Immigrants and drug trafficking, politically incorrect?

Most of the unsavory right-wing political parties now close to or in power in the EU would not agree. They readily link immigration to all kinds of crime. Statistics about the ethnic make-up of prison populations are easy pickings for them because prisons are rarely full of respectable white Europeans.


Multicultural society hasn’t worked. At least that is what Mrs. Merkel tells us. It would be more accurate to say that at least two generations of politicians have made a shameful mess of it. For the last ten years the European Commission’s Directorate General for Justice and Home Affairs has laid siege to the nimbyism of the Member States on this issue, urging them to get real and come to grips with a phenomenon that can’t simply be  stopped, and to deal with it in a way that is most profitable to “us” and to “them”. Some progress has been made but the EU still lacks anything resembling a common immigration policy.


As with drug policy, there is a form of decriminalisation of (illegal) immigration going on, and for the same reasons: the problem is now beyond the control of the authorities. This leaves many immigrants in a legal and civic limbo and therefore cut off from mainstream society and its services. Many more established immigrants, even second or third generation, are parked in grim social housing with few facilities and with little hope for young people to get a job. Just one example: youth unemployment in one ofBrusselsinner city immigrant areas stands at 50%. The main landmark on the edge of this quarter is the Commission’s steel and glass tower that houses its communication services. Such areas are the main recruitment grounds for the large and inexhaustible army of small drug dealers, starting at around twelve years old or even younger. They have nowhere else to go.


In my next post I will argue that most states inEuropeare in denial about this issue and that it is one of the most potent arguments for reviewing current drug laws ina wider context, taking in immigration  and inner city policies.

10:49 Posted by Carel Edwards in Drugs and politics | Permalink | Comments (1) |  Facebook

11 May 2011

Wikileaks and drug policies

Wikileaks has published cables on negotiations between the EU and the US on drug policies within the UN machinery dating back to 2009. For most non-specialists it is probably too obscure to get into. For those of you who know what harm reduction means and how important it is in the long road to replace simple prohibition by something less fundamentalist, read http://wikileaks.ch/cable/2009/01/09UNVIEVIENNA31.html. It gives a clear picture of (quite acceptable) diplomatic efforts to divide and pressurise the opposition. The sad thing is that they were not entirely unsuccessful in the end, mainly due to Sweden and Italy (and some other member states) breaking the EU consensus in the end. Not for the first time the EU dropped its pants before the whole world. On another occasion there was a counter-declaration led by Germany. When some Commission staff present were seen to applaud this I was taken aside by the Swedish delegate and told that this was unacceptable behaviour, that the the Commission was not supposed to have an opinion and that Sweden was considering making a complaint to Barroso. My reply was to encourage her to read the EU treaties on the subject and that I would serenely wait for the Commission's President to summon me to his presence. He never did. 

11:39 Posted by Carel Edwards in Drugs and politics | Permalink | Comments (1) |  Facebook