Long-standing concerns that drug syndicates would exploit traditional people smuggling routes are now being realized. Indonesian authorities in particular are concerned that Iranian asylum seekers are being recruited into the drug trade.
In Jakarta, the National Narcotics Agency (NNA) also suspects that methamphetamine laboratories are also using these routes to shift production from Malaysia to Indonesia where they are taking advantage of a much lower cost base.
As a result, immigration and customs departments are being urged to pay closer attention to foreigners, with NNA chief Anang Iskander singling out Nigerians as primary suspects. The chief said people from the East African country were increasingly being used by Iranian syndicates for distribution.
There are numerous people smuggling routes in the region which in the past have been used by Islamic militants including the now defunct Jemaah Islamiya (JI).
These routes include the one from Zamboanga in the Southern Philippines to Sandakan in East Malaysia and south into Indonesia, as well as another that stretches from West Malaysia across the Malaccan Straits to the main islands of Sumatra or Java via fishing vessels where boats are regularly boarded for Australia.
The route in is normally by plane through Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok with asylum seekers — in the case of people being smuggled from the Middle East — meeting-up at a friendly Mosque.
A September 2011 UN report highlighted the growing prominence of Iranian drug syndicates despite extensive efforts by Tehran to eradicate them. The report said the Iranian groups have enjoyed greater influence in the drug trade amid a resurgence of methamphetamine production in the “Golden Triangle” where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Burma intersect.
It’s the same area which was once run by the opium warlords Khun Sa and Law Sit Han but, according to the UN, is now reinventing itself as a factory for methamphetamine production.
More than 94 million methamphetamine pills were seized across East and Southeast Asia in 2009, compared with about 32 million in 2008.
Another 6.9 tons of the drug Ketamine was seized in Asia in 2009, up from 6.3 tons a year earlier. Ketamine is traditionally a veterinary anesthesia for small animals, but in recent years authorities have witnessed humans increasingly using the drug recreationally as a cheap alternative to ecstasy. Despite being an anesthesia, in smaller doses Ketamine mimics the effects of a stimulant.
The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) says Iranian criminal organizations have significantly increased their operations in Asia drug networks, and account for some of the larger meth seizures in the region in recent years.
If Indonesia is to be believed, Iranian criminal groups are now tapping asylum seekers as a means to evade authorities and reduce such seizures.