Organized crime threatens peace and prosperity in an integrated Southeast Asia

Bangkok (Thailand), 25 February 2016 - Rapid integration in Southeast Asia is creating new economic, social and development opportunities, but also poses significant security challenges underpinned by organised crime, according to a new report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). There are indications that organized crime and associated problems are expanding and diversifying as regional integration intensifies.

Controlling the illegal flows of goods, people and money has increasingly become a challenge that governments cannot address alone. The illegal trade of people, drugs, wildlife and counterfeits in Southeast Asia is conservatively estimated at USD 100 billion per year, and has a destabilizing effect by generating money for criminal and non-state groups that is laundered into the legitimate economy.

The report frames the issues within the context of regional integration and urges countries in the region to act quickly to address the possible amplification of transnational organized crime.

"Current public security and safety institutions, systems and safeguards in the region are reflective of a time when crime was local in nature, prior to when governments had to work on shared security challenges" said Mr. Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative, Southeast Asia and the Pacific. "Currently, the ASEAN institutional agenda for countering transnational crime is not moving at the same speed as the trade and migration side of the integration. Anticipating transnational organised crime and security risks should be an integral part of infrastructure and trade facilitation project plans."

The drug trade is a key example of how regional integration has facilitated the illegal flow of substances within the region and exploited connections with neighbouring regions. Heroin and synthetic drugs are often produced in the region, and consumed in other countries in the region or beyond. The trade operates alongside, and is often intertwined with, the licit economy. Similarly, the precursor chemicals needed for the production of these drugs are trafficked into the region, mainly from neighboring China and India. The diversion of precursors from legitimate trade channels for methamphetamine manufacture increasingly involves pharmaceuticals from legitimate manufacturers.

Economic growth in Southeast Asia is encouraging closer integration of suppliers, production networks and infrastructure in the region. Rapidly expanding economic and infrastructure connections around the region, in the form of ports, border crossings and airports, have expanded the opportunity for organised crime to traverse borders quickly and with greater ease. The capacities required to address the risks and negative impacts of increased cross-border movement include improved information exchange, ability to risk profile, improved management of border, port and airport infrastructure, and facilitate joint operations.

Over the past decade, UNODC has gained experience in border management, port intelligence units, port control units and through supporting law enforcement and justice strategies.

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