Turkey and Balkans battle drug trafficking
Turkey has clamped down on drug trafficking, accounting 16 percent of global heroin seizures.
By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul — 22/04/13
A major heroin trafficking route runs from Afghanistan through Iran, Turkey and the Balkans to markets in Europe. [AFP]
The international drug trade continues to ply the „Balkan route,“ bringing narcotics through Turkey and the Balkans to Europe in a multi-billion euro illicit industry run by sophisticated organised crime groups, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol, found in its annual report.
„Routes through Western Balkan countries remain important for the movement of many illicit commodities into the EU. Heroin and cocaine pass through the Western Balkans after transiting through Turkey and Africa,“ the EU Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment 2013 (SOCTA), report stated.
The international drug trade feeds organised crime and human trafficking as well as terrorist groups using drug income to purchase weapons, authorities said.
„The Western Balkans are not only a transit region, but also a major source of firearms traded on the international weapons market, precursors and synthetic drugs. Money laundering also takes place in this region through investment in real estate and in commercial companies,“ the report noted.
Given its location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Turkey has long been a transit, source and destination country of illicit drugs.
„Turkey’s borders with the EU remain vulnerable despite intense law enforcement focus. The country connects supplier countries to consumer markets in the member states. The vast majority of heroin in the EU continues to transit through Turkey and is trafficked by Turkish organised crime groups from its origin to destination markets,“ the report said.
Heroin is the leading drug trafficked through Turkey and the Balkans to Europe. The drug makes its way from Afghanistan, where 75 percent of the world’s opium is produced, and is transported mainly through land borders. Turkey-based traffickers and diaspora communities in Europe principally control the distribution networks.
According to Europol estimates, there are 3,600 organised crime groups active in the EU, 30 percent of which are involved in drug trafficking. Albanian, Pakistani and Turkish origin criminal groups dominate the trafficking in heroin.
„There is considerable volume of heroin being trafficked via Turkey. The main beneficiaries are Kurdish and Turkish traffickers. [The outlawed Kurdistan Workers‘ Party] PKK is estimated to have high volume of income from heroin trade as well,“ Hakan Demirbuken, an officer from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told SETimes.
The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report confirms this, pointing out that „in recent years, many ethnic Kurdish traffickers have expanded operations to larger cities in Turkey and other countries in Europe.“
From Turkey, heroin passes through Balkan countries on its way to Europe. Low levels of law enforcement, lack of governance, poverty and open borders with no customs controls contribute to low levels of heroin seizures in Balkan countries compared to Turkey, Demirbuken said.
Over the past decade Turkey has boosted drug enforcement. Almost all land borders of the country are equipped with scanners, specially trained dogs and well-trained personnel that have yielded large seizures of drugs and forced some criminal groups to find alternative routes to reach Europe.
The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report said that the Turkish government remains committed to maintain its international drug control commitments when seizing large amounts of drugs throughout the country’s borders.
Turkey’s anti-drug trafficking efforts as well as competition between different organised criminal groups have led to a shift in international drug trafficking routes, officials said.
„International trade routes and the freedom of movement within the EU enable organised criminal groups to avoid law enforcement activity or circumvent competing organised criminal groups controlling a particular route. There has been a shift in trafficking routes across a number of commodities. Heroin traffickers trying to avoid Turkish groups now also traffic via East and South Africa or ship their product directly to the EU via Pakistan or the United Arab Emirates,“ Europol said.
Yet Turkey’s Foreign Ministry opposed the conclusions of the Europol report, stating that according to the 2012 UNODC report, Turkey’s efforts in seizing heroin from Afghanistan to the western Balkans are welcomed, accounting for 16 percent of global heroin seizures.
„In last decade, the heroin seizures in EU countries decreased three or four fold, while in Turkey it increased by three or four times. So, the picture drawn in Europol report does not reflect the reality,“ the ministry said in a press statement.
The EU has been increasing its funding capacity in the western Balkans and Turkey to develop integrated border management and assist the national authorities in tracking the illicit trade through their borders…………….http://www.setimes.com/cocoon/setimes/xhtml/en_GB/features/setimes/features/2013/04/22/feature-04