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04 March 2024

Dubai Airport Customs: Facing drug smugglers

Drugs were found concealed in almonds by customs officials at Dubai International Airport. (Supplied)

By Amal Al Jabry

Over 60kg of heroin and 30kg of other kinds of narcotics were seized from passengers arriving at Dubai Airport last year.

Speaking to Emirates 24|7, Ahmed bin Lahej,  Director of Passengers Operation at Dubai Airport said customs inspectors come face to face with drugs smugglers every day.

Ahmed said there were nearly 350 cases involving drug possession or smuggling by passengers in 2014.

Heroin topped the list of confiscated drugs along with cocaine, crystal meth and the restricted drug Tramadol.

Ahmed added those caught are mainly male passengers arriving from Asia and Africa, particularly those between 20 to 40 years of age. These passengers hide drugs mostly in their luggage and personal belongings.

Huda Mohamed Abdulla, senior inspector at Dubai Airport said, “They also hide drugs in food and in machines.”

The most common way of concealing drugs, however, is in the internal organs of the passenger.

“In cases involving their bags or suitcases its easier for us to question the passenger until he confesses but it’s a different case for us when he’s hiding drugs in his stomach,” said Hassan Ibrahim, senior inspection officer at Dubai Airport.

He added, “They inject their body with a certain drug that makes them stay cool and calm to try and convince us they’re not carrying anything illegal.”

But that calmness can be one of the signs that the passenger is carrying drugs internally.

“They’re given a story to make their visit seem legal but when we investigate further, we find that their story is weak,” said Hassan.

He added, “For example, if they say they’re coming to Dubai for business, we ask what kind of business. If they say they’re buying laptops, we ask which types and models, memory and speed and so on, because if you’re a businessperson you should be very knowledgeable about details about laptops.”

Hassan continued, “So if the passenger cannot or struggles to answer, I would then suspect there is something wrong with him.”
Huda adds, “I would also ask about the currency they are carrying, how much, how long they’re planning on staying here, where exactly they’re going to stay.”

Meanwhile, customs inspectors go through the procedure of scanning  passengers bags, manually checking luggage, and if there’s any evidence of drug use, including smoking equipment, the next step is body scanning. 

Hassan explained, “To catch drug smugglers, we have to spot the signs and I have to complete the procedure to be 100 per cent sure that the passenger is clean and not carrying anything illegal with him.”

The team has the latest drug detector machines where they perform a swab test from the outside and inside the luggage, take a sample and insert it into the machine, which would indicate if the passenger was in close contact with any drug or explosive.
Two months ago, Dubai Customs foiled a drug smuggling attempt by a family of seven and seized a total of 24kg of pure heroin.

 “With 24kg of pure heroin you could make around 50kg or more,” said bin Lahej.

He said, “We gathered all information about these passengers, checked all their routes but we did not disclose any information and we also stopped these family members from communicating with each other while in custody.”

Bin Lahej attributed the operation’s success to excellent team work.

“They work hard to protect our country, I’m really proud of my team, proud of their achievement, and the key word for success here is team work.”