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Fiji minister says pandemic forcing more Fijians into global crime gangs

Wednesday 3 August 2022 | Written by RNZ | Published in Fiji, Regional

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Fiji minister says pandemic forcing more Fijians into global crime gangs
Disaster Management Minister, Jone Usamate Photo: Fiji Govt

The Fijian government says covid-19 has crippled Pacific law enforcement agencies' efforts to effectively respond to trans-national crimes.

Speaking at the first-ever Pacific regional law enforcement conference being held in Nadi this week, Fiji's acting defence minister, Jone Usamate said the pandemic has resulted in increased unemployment, a high cost of living, and a lack of health resources.

Usamate said the challenges brought about by covid have become "push factors" for Pacific Islanders to join the multibillion-dollar criminal networks.

"What is also unfortunate is that whilst there might be foreign masterminds involved, it is our own people who are directly involved in the illicit movement of drugs and narcotics on our streets, in our schools, and in our communities.

"It is our own people that are directly involved in the sketchy recruitment of our nationals to false hopes of greener pastures overseas, and vice versa."

Usmate told the conference reports from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime have identified Fiji, and the Pacific generally, as a transit point for drug routes.

"Drug syndicate groups are continually exploiting our vast and porous maritime borders to imported stockpile drugs for the end market in Australia, New Zealand, Asia and North America.

"If I'm reading the reports right, what are the other problems that we have now? We're beginning to see the use of these drugs in our own island nations."

Pacific seen as weak by gang leaders

Usamate warned that Pacific Island countries are seen to be a source, a transit, and destinations point for human trafficking.

He said human trafficking degrades a victim's basic human rights and Pacific Island countries' borders, limited border security capabilities, and developing socio-economic backgrounds makes the Pacific vulnerable.

"It is because of these factors that organised criminal syndicates see our region is an opportunity to progress they're high profit, and low risk illegal operations.

"So, it is pertinent, it is important, it is critical that these types of forums must be held that we must talk about these challenges, and how best we as a region can use our resources collectively to fight together as one."