Drug mules must find no welcome in Hong Kong

Jingan Young says Hong Kong's popularity with tourists provides a good cover for these couriers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 August, 2013, 8:39am

This month, Hong Kong has witnessed a worrying number of cases of individuals arrested after entering the city with large amounts of drugs. There was the arrest on the same day of a 35-year-old Hongkonger with 48kg of cocaine and a 22-year-old Russian woman with 12kg of the drug. Both were arrested at the airport after travelling from Brazil. Before that, two Filipino sisters were arrested for bringing in 14.5kg of methamphetamine, and two others were caught trying to import heroin from Tanzania, also recently.

The failed attempts to smuggle illicit substances into Southeast Asia appear to be largely due to flawed methods in packing the drugs. And while the arrests may demonstrate official proficiency in drug intervention, we also need to be concerned with the reasons for this apparent surge in trafficking by so-called "holidaymakers". It points to one thing at least: the fact that Hong Kong is very much wide open.

We should also examine the recent case of Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum Connolly, both 20, who were caught with 11kg of cocaine in their luggage as they tried to board a flight from Peru to Madrid.

The girls claim they were kidnapped and forcibly recruited as drug mules by a Colombian cartel in Ibiza.

The truth remains elusive. Was it all a misunderstanding? Were the women decoys for a larger shipment? Or were they just a pair of self-indulgent young people looking for cheap thrills and an alibi?

Ibiza thrives on a hedonistic reputation, and there's no shortage of stories of teenagers recruited at clubs to smuggle drugs abroad.

It is a world away from Hong Kong's global reputation as an urban oasis of order and, more importantly, its standing as a (fairly) conservative port for free trade. This makes it an unlikely candidate for drug dealing. But are we in danger of becoming, as the UN's International Narcotics Control Board has warned, a transit point for drug mules originating in South America?

Donald Wong Sui-cheung, head of Hong Kong customs' drug investigation bureau, said: "During the holiday season, the volume of holiday travellers will be on the rise, and we expect drug traffickers to make use of this rise in passenger flow to camouflage their illicit business."

But what if this "illicit business" is in fact fuelled by the tourists themselves? Higher demand means bigger payouts and tourists may see opportunities to target and groom young people, whether they are lounging by the pool on a city-centre hotel rooftop or on a beach in Sai Kung.

Our city thrives on its openness, and we cannot change that. But we need to be on our guard.

Jingan Young is a Hong Kong-born playwright and freelance writer currently reading for a master's in creative writing at Oxford