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DECOYS are being arrested to divert attention from the real smugglers who manage to slip through airports.
This is according to Patricia Gerber, who runs the organisation Locked Up in a Foreign Country, which deals with people arrested overseas and their families.
Gerber said decoys were recruited under false pretences and used for the purpose of distracting authorities, while drug mules then successfully smuggled drugs.
In one of the latest arrests, 31-year-old Adelina Ononiwu was held at an airport in Thailand after allegedly trying to smuggle 2kg of crystal methamphetamine from Kenya.
And a few days ago convicted drug mule Nolubabalo Nobandla was sentenced to 15 years in jail in Thailand for smuggling cocaine in her dreadlocks last year.
Gerber said it was difficult to estimate how many South Africans were in jail overseas, but the number was believed to be more than 600.
She said Brazil seemed to be the country where most arrests were being made, based on the number of calls from family members who had heard their relatives had been caught there for smuggling.
Gareth Newham, head of the Institute for Security Studies’ crime and justice programme, said while he had not done any studies on the topic, he had heard about decoys being arrested instead of drug mules. He said he had heard that authorities were often tipped off, so when decoys arrived at an airport they were arrested. The drug mule was placed on another flight and managed to slip into a country.
Department of International Relations and Co-operation spokesman Nelson Kgwete was unable to say yesterday how many suspected drug smugglers from SA were locked up abroad as there was no database with this information.
He said he would have to contact each individual country and add up the figures to get a total.