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Reuters AlertNet, Oct. 6, 2005
by Paul Majendie
LONDON, Oct 6 (Reuters) - The number of women from Nigeria being recruited as drug couriers is rising sharply after a clampdown in Jamaica hit the hiring of smugglers there, drug experts and prisoners' rights campaigners have warned.
"Our main concern now is Nigeria," said Olga Heaven, director of Hibiscus, a charity that supports foreign prisoners in British jails and which led the Caribbean drive to stop women being lured into being "drug mules." "We now have well over 100 Nigerian women in British prisons. That figure could treble in the next six months," she told Reuters.
West Africa is seen as an attractive transit centre for drug traffickers because criminal networks there have proved notoriously difficult for police and customs to break.
These criminal gangs are well placed to sell drugs to West African nationals living in the West and to recruit couriers among a cheap labour force at home.
"We had a terrible problem as hundreds of Jamaican women were coming in. A huge education campaign was launched in Jamaica telling them about the consequences," Heaven said. "It worked. Now there has been a direct shift to Nigeria."
The drug couriers get paid up to 5,000 pounds ($8,850) for bringing in up to four kilos of cocaine, she said. They could face 20 years in a British jail if caught.
United Nations experts say South American drug cartels are moving into West Africa, lured by lax policing and the presence of criminal groups to work for them.
"If you look at recent seizures of cocaine, the biggest are all linked to groups with operations on the West African coast," Antonio Mazzitelli, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, told Reuters in a recent interview in Senegal.
Education is seen as the key to curbing the mules.
In Jamaica, a TV promotion campaign showed the cautionary tale of Eva, a Jamaican woman duped and bribed into carrying drugs into Britain where she was caught.
Prison activists and drug experts believe a similar approach would work in Nigeria.
"There are 4,300 women in prison in Britain. Over 1,000 are foreign nationals," Heaven said.
"The bottom line is poverty and lack of information," she said of single women desperate to borrow money for schooling or to finance hospital treatment for relatives.
"The consequence for the families of these women are devastating," said Dr Axel Klein, who worked for the UN drug control programme in Nigeria's main city Lagos for several years.
Klein, now lecturer in addiction at the University of Canterbury, told Reuters: "These women have no idea what they are letting themselves in for. A prevention campaign in Nigeria would go a long way to dissuade them from becoming couriers," he said.
(Additional reporting by Nick Tattersall in Dakar)