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Government calls for action on khat use

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Government calls for action on khat use
13:28 CET+01:00
The Swedish government has announced a tougher approach to the threat posed by the use of the mildly intoxicating drug khat on the state of public health.

Integration minister Nyamko Sabuni said on Monday that the fight against khat, a herbal drug popular with the Swedish-Somali population, must be intensified, reports Dagens Nyheter (DN).

"Khat abuse causes a lot of suffering. It leads to unemployment and counters the integration of many Swedish-Somalis into Swedish society," said Nyamko Sabuni to the newspaper.

The Local reported back in May 2008 on the widespread use of khat, which was outlawed in Sweden in 1989. The report also revealed that prohibition is not strictly reinforced and that police turn a blind eye to the drug which can be found sold openly in areas where immigrants from the Horn of Africa live, such as the western Stockholm suburb of Tensta.

Johnny Lindh at Tensta-Rinkeby police appeared to confirm the view in an interview with DN on Monday.

"The customs plug away on their watch, but within the police and among national politicians no one cares. The problem is within a small ethnic group which lives outside of mainstream society, and as long as abuse does not spread to your average Swede then those in power are obviously not interested," he told the newspaper.

Sabuni rejected accusations of racism but said that if the situation was true, it was "unacceptable" and that much more can be done.

The minister also expressed concern that funds from the sale of khat could be finding their way into the hands of terror groups such al-Shabab.

"It is the first time that I have heard about this (the connection to al-Shabab). This is very serious if revenues from drug smuggling go to terror groups. I am presuming that the security police are investigating the issue," Sabuni told the newspaper.

The Local spoke to Shane Quinn, one of Sweden's leading Somalia experts and he told of the importance of the drug to the everyday life of many Somalis.

"It is the only thing that runs on time in Somalia," he said adding, "it is a very serious problem, especially for the women who then have to take responsibility for all work and household chores as their men are incapacitated."

Shane Quinn added that the Somali diaspora in Sweden, which he says numbers some 25,000, are becoming recognised as more important to engage with in the struggle to bring order to the war-torn nation.

"Politicians have hitherto shown a blind eye, but movement is starting within development aid circles," he said, while also expressing doubts that khat makes it any harder for the already sidelined community to integrate.

"It won't make it any easier, but they are already faced with often insurmountable obstacles," he said.

While khat is classed as a narcotic in Sweden, large amounts must be involved for any stiff penalties to be incurred. In the Netherlands and the UK the drug is legal, with London and Amsterdam known to be the drug's points of entry into the EU.

"I promise to take this up with my British and Dutch colleagues," Nyamko Sabuni said.

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