Why the khat smuggling into Switzerland explodes

Khat intoxication is spreading more and more in Switzerland. In recent years, smuggling with the illegal drug has exploded. This is shown by the figures from Zurich Airport. In the past eleven months alone, investigators have confiscated over 2.1 tons of khat in travel. By comparison, last year it was still 365 kilograms. This number has increased almost sixfold - within just one year. But that's not all: dried leaves of the intoxicating plant also reach the country via the post office. It was over a ton this year. On the one hand, this massive increase is explained by the fact that the police are increasingly carrying out checks. That is not enough to justify it.

Is Khat the new in-drug? Hardly likely. Because the taste is bitter. So bitter that the drug is almost exclusively taken by people from countries of origin such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen or Kenya, where the substance is widely used as a socially accepted drug. According to the police, consumers in Switzerland are predominantly migrants from the northeastern part of Africa. The dramatic increase in Khats' security can also be explained by the growing community of people from the East African countries in Switzerland. Because with the larger diaspora from Somalia and Eritrea, more potential consumers from East Africa have come to Switzerland. The drug is thus rather a marginal phenomenon of immigration as a new trend.

The fact that khat is an issue in the Somali community in the Canton of Zurich is confirmed by Bashir Gobdon. The head of the Somali Cultural Association in Zurich knows both, people who take the substance on the weekend together with friends, as well as consumers who are addicted. He estimates the latter group to be around forty people - "many of them are unemployed and lonely". Overall, Gobdon notes a change in the khat market in Switzerland: "When England banned the plant three years ago, quality has diminished here." Therefore, many casual users did not consume it anymore.

The drug of migrants

Khat has been banned in Switzerland since 1992 according to the Narcotics Act. The reason is the effect of the drug. The young shoots and leaves of the plant stimulate the organism. If possible, they are consumed immediately after picking, because after three to four days they lose their intoxicating effect. After hours of chewing, the substances cathinone and cathin are taken up via the oral mucosa. They have a psychologically stimulating effect and stimulate the circulation. The sense of time and space is lost, but the speech - even hyperactivity - increases. Fatigue and hunger take a back seat.

The drug, according to Boris Quednow, a search expert and professor at the Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich, has a mood-enhancing effect and acts like a low-dose amphetamine. In this form Khat is most comparable to Ritalin. After a prolonged period of chewing, however, the effect may increase. "However, those who only chew on the leaves for a short time only notice an effect similar to that after a few cups of espresso."

Purely structurally, Crystal Meth is not dissimilar, explains Quednow. "But in contrast to such chemical drugs, the concentration that is absorbed in khat chewing is much lower." The damage potential is also comparatively moderate. Nevertheless, the side effects are by no means harmless: the consumption can promote cancers in the oral cavity, cause psychosis and cognitive disorders and lead to insomnia. "In Switzerland, daily consumption over a long period would hardly be possible," explains the drug expert. The market is far too small for that. "Switzerland is thus far from becoming a Khathölle."

Until the late 1980s, the substance was known in Europe only a few. It only appeared in narratives of African travelers who described the men with the big cheeks. Or there were newspaper reports that mentioned the exotic drug. Thus, in 1982, the NZZ published a three-page khat report with numerous pictures and described the chewing of elongated leaves as a "cultivated vice".

The level of awareness changed when in the 1990s, the first reports of confiscated khat made the rounds. The biggest boom, however, has been in the past few years in the chewing gum, which is growing wild in the highlands of East Africa. Since 2012, according to police, the seizures have increased massively. The smugglers always go the same way. They squeeze countless bundles of the freshly picked plant in trolleys and pack them only with a cloth . The pictures, which the police send out after drug finds, show above all how difficult it is to smuggle khat. The branches and leaves are already relaxed after the flight. To even have an effect, the drug must be consumed immediately. Longer onward transport is therefore out of the question. No comparison to the highly professional and down to the last detail organized trade in cocaine or cannabis.

How the khat is redistributed in Switzerland and who consumes the substance, the authorities do not know. It is equally unknown to them whether the smugglers are professionals or if they only supply themselves and their environment with the drug. Even with Addiction Switzerland and the Federal Office of Public Health there is nothing concrete to learn.

However, Switzerland is not alone with the phenomenon. According to the cantonal police, the seizure of khat smugglers is also commonplace at other European airports. It is striking that all arrested drug dealers have previously flown from Nairobi, Kenya, to Zurich - usually with a stopover in the United Arab Emirates. Although the intoxicating plant also grows in countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea or Yemen. The khat seized in Zurich comes mostly from Kenya.

According to the police, the smugglers are predominantly young men who are often unemployed and destitute. Often it is Europeans with Northeast African roots, but sometimes also people from Eastern Europe. If they are caught, they only expect a fine. However, if they can get the goods unnoticed into the country, according to insiders, the procedure is as follows: The dealers have mobile phone numbers of potential buyers. In addition, it speaks in the community around, when again a new delivery arrived.

According to Urs Rohr of the Addiction Prevention Office of the City of Zurich, Khathandel takes place at a much lower level than other illegal substances. "The smugglers are probably primarily people who provide their own network with the drug." The weight ratios are different. The guarantee of 1 kilo of cocaine and that of 80 kilos of khat are out of proportion in value, because the prices vary greatly. While 1 gram of cocaine costs up to 120 francs on the black market, the price for a bundle of 100 gram khat per canton police is only 20 francs. The price varies depending on availability. "This drug plays in a completely different league," explains Rohr. As for the dangers, khat can not be compared to cocaine. The authorities classify the plant as a light drug.

The drug has also been smuggled into Switzerland for some time - via the post office and often disguised as tea. This leaves the experts a bit baffled. Because with dried khat, the intoxicating substance almost fizzles to ineffectiveness. Or, as Boris Quednow puts it: "In this form, the plant has at most the effect of green tea." But why more than a ton of it was imported into Switzerland this year, Urs Rohr of the addiction prevention agency explains: "Khat is a social drug. "In this" castrated variant, "consumers in Switzerland may be more concerned with a native ritual than with simple intoxication. Source: NZZ.ch

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