The European Union is likening the plight of children exploited by drug gangs to that of “child soldiers” coerced into violence by criminals and cartels. This comparison was made as the EU initiated a series of measures to combat cocaine smuggling, acknowledging it as one of Europe’s most significant security concerns.
Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, expressed grave concern that young people were being drawn into an increasingly thriving and brutal drug trade. She stated that they were being radicalized and groomed to become enforcers for drug gangs, equating their experiences to that of child soldiers. Johansson emphasized the gravity of the organized crime-driven drug trade as a paramount security threat to Europe, one that is escalating.
Johansson referenced a recent incident in a Stockholm suburb where a 16-year-old was apprehended in connection with the murder of two women, one in her 20s and one in her 60s, while children were present in the residence. The teenager was found in possession of an automatic weapon and linked to another murder. She described this as part of a troubling pattern of crimes committed by children.
To tackle drug trafficking and the recruitment of children, the EU aims to strengthen strategies by identifying early signs, such as children’s involvement in shoplifting or dropping out of school.
Additionally, the EU is working to establish a European drug alert system that would promptly inform national authorities and drug users about new hazardous substances entering the market. An alliance between European ports is being formed to enhance intelligence-sharing in this regard.
The crackdown on drug-related issues comes as statistics reveal that 50% of all homicides in the EU are now tied to drug activities. There is growing apprehension about synthetic drugs produced in labs and the proliferation of cocaine.
In 2021, a record 303 tonnes of cocaine were seized in the EU, a fivefold increase compared to a decade ago. The majority of these seizures occurred in three countries: the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain. The consequences include rising corruption as cartels seek to infiltrate port logistics companies, local union officials, and politicians, leading to a significant upsurge in violent crime.
However, cocaine is not the sole concern. The EU is determined to apply lessons learned from the US’s fentanyl crisis, which is suspected of causing 100,000 deaths. The EU is actively addressing potential fentanyl usage within the bloc, with a recent police raid in Latvia seizing 5kg of the painkiller, which is 50 times more potent than street heroin.
The EU also plans to collaborate with Latin and Central American nations to share intelligence and strategies in combating criminal networks. Negotiations for international agreements involving the exchange of personal data with Europol are underway with Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, and Mexico. Cooperation with the US, through an initiative led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, is also in progress to address the synthetic drug threat and dismantle safe havens for drug cartels.
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