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Major European airports see substantial decrease in drug seizures in flights from Latin America and the Caribbean to Europe

AIRCOP is a multi-agency, anti-trafficking initiative which strengthens detection, interdiction and investigative capacities of law enforcement officials in participating airports. As part of the EU Cocaine Route Programme, AIRCOP aims at preventing flows of illicit goods and at detecting high-risk passengers at 37 selected international airports in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East through real-time cooperation and exchange of operational information between airports.

Mr. Amado Philip de Andrés, UNODC Regional Representative for Central America and the Caribbean, highlights that since the project's launch in 2010, 19 inter-service Joint Airport Interdiction Task Forces (JAITFs) have been established, composed of officials from different law enforcement agencies, including police, customs, immigration and airport authorities, and over 2500 law enforcement officers have been trained.

The JAITFs have seized to date 3.1 tons of cocaine, 1.4 tons of cannabis, 1.4 tons of counterfeit medicine, 639 kg of methamphetamines, 541 kg of ivory and US$ 6.5 million, as the result of over 1,000 seizures and 1,100 arrests.

For Mr. Pierre Lapaque, UNODC Regional Representative for West and Central Africa, the successes are the results of targeted capacity building, joint operations and the provision of equipment and communication tools such as INTERPOL's I-24/7 and WCO's CENcomm, as well as the commitment of national law enforcement agencies.

Mr. Sergio Naranjo, AIRCOP Regional Project Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, points to the significant contributions made by the JAITFs in Latin America and the Caribbean, who since the launch of their operations in 2015, have intercepted 2 tons of cocaine, 137 kilos of cannabis, 90 kilos of methamphetamines, 11 kilos of heroine, as well as 850,000 USD in cash, resulting in 424 seizures and 441 arrests, including three persons with links to terrorism who were in transit in Punta Cana heading to Europe.

According to the Special Drug Unit of the Spanish National Police, which reports the highest number of drug seizures of any European country and have trained most of the JAITFs in Latin America and the Caribbean, their seizures at Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport, one of two traditional entry points of cocaine into Europe, have been reduced by about 50% in the last two years, in large part thanks to the operations of the JAITFs in Latin America and the Caribbean. In the case of the Dominican Republic, 36% of all drug and cash seizures by the Santo Domingo JAITF were from passengers headed to Madrid. Consequently, the seizures at Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport of passengers coming from the Dominican Republic decreased by an impressive 70%.

Moreover, from 2011-2014, the Special Drug Unit of the Spanish National Police saw an average of 380 detainees per year, while in the last two years the average has been reduced to 220 per year. This is not only an important gain in the fight against drug trafficking but also has a significant impact on the high financial costs of maintaining detainees. According to the Council of Europe, the average cost per day to maintain a detainee in Spain is 65 euros. Those detained for drug trafficking serve a minimum of 4 years prison time and a maximum of 10 years. If we take into account an average prison time of 7 years for these detainees, the reduction in number of detainees from 380 to 220 implies a cost saving per year of 26 million euros for Spain.

In Brussels, the other major entry point of cocaine into Europe, the Belgian Federal Police has seen a similar reduction in drug seizures in flights coming from Latin America and the Caribbean, with a reduction of 90% in drug seizures on flights from the Dominican Republic. The work of the Punta Cana JAITF (Dominican Republic) clearly contributed to such a reduction, as close to half of all intercepted outbound passengers were headed to Belgium. In terms of detainees, from 2011-2014 at Brussels Airport in Belgium, there was an annual average of 100 persons detained coming from Central American and the Caribbean. In the last two years, however, this number has dropped significantly to 3 detainees per year.

In addition to strengthening technical capacities of the JAITF officials, AIRCOP contributed to addresses the challenge of a fragmented law enforcement approach by promoting regional and inter-regional cooperation in the fight against transnational organized crime between origin, transit and destination countries.

The AIRCOP Project is funded by the European Union, Japan, Canada, Norway, and the USA, and implemented by UNODC in partnership with the World Customs Organization (WCO) and INTERPOL.