URGENT action is needed by community leaders and families to address the numbers of British Pakistani men being jailed for class A drugs offences, experts have said.
They have blamed a failure of “community leadership and parents” for allowing the situation to escalate, and have called for families and religious leaders to speak to young people about the dangers of the scourge.
Figures show that men of Pakistani origin are now over-represented in convictions for dealing class A drugs in the Yorkshire and Humber area.
In a recent BBC documentary called Hometown, one source told the programme that around 60-65 per cent of heroin in West Yorkshire is imported from Pakistan, hidden in baby powder, dog food, nappies and in the petrol tanks of cars.
It comes as the E-gangs Project in Essex, which aims to protect vulnerable youngsters, warned that criminals are grooming children to be “county line” drug runners during the school summer holiday.
Dr Qadir Baksh, who has written two books on drug problems in south Asian communities, said: “Sadly, the situation has deteriorated over the past two or more decades”, particularly in northern England.
He told Eastern Eye: “Internal factors are caused by the communities themselves. For decades they have their heads in the sand like an ostrich, failing to accept that the problems exist in the community.
“(There’s also) Underachievement in education, leading to poor employment outcomes and their location in poor housing. They are trapped in those towns.
“Racism, discrimination, Islamophobia and general exclusion have not helped either. Youth who are unskilled, uneducated, unemployed (feel they) need designer clothes, good cars, so to achieve all that quickly, drug dealing is the career ladder for them.”
British Pakistanis make up a minority of those convicted for dealing class A drugs in the UK overall.
Recent cases include nine men of south Asian origin who were among 14 people jailed in June for the supply of heroin and crack cocaine in Bradford.
In May, eight men of south Asian origin were among 20 people from Luton, Bedfordshire, sentenced to more than 110 years in prison for running a multimillion pound drugs conspiracy.
Among the imams warning youngsters of the dangers of falling into crime is Alyas Kirmani in Bradford.
He fears drug kingpins are grooming young people by telling them “‘we are not selling to Muslims, we are selling to non-Muslims’ or ‘we are in a non-Muslim country so therefore we have a necessity’ and this allows [them] to twist the kind of principles’.”
There are 27,000 children in gangs, according to the Office of the children’s commissioner in England.
Hanif Mohammed was groomed by a criminal gang to sell drugs after being expelled from school aged 14. He is now assistant manager of In2Change in Sheffield, Yorkshire, which aims to steer young people and ex-offenders away from crime.
Mohammed said: “There was no support mechanism or alternative provisional education to continue.
“I was picked up by people much older than me, who were involved in the criminal fraternity. Rather than give me good advice, they befriended me under the pretence that they were my friend.
“They were making me sell class A drugs and take the risk. Because I was young and immature, I felt they had my best interests at heart. How wrong I was.
“There was no monetary gain. I was getting street cred in my own mind, linked with people much older. People my own age were going to school.”
Mohammed Shafiq, spokesman for the Ramadhan Foundation, said some families have to stop being in “denial” over their child’s involvement in drugs.
The community leader from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, told Eastern Eye: “You cannot get defensive, you have to address the issue at hand.
“You cannot dispute the facts and the ever-growing problem of drugs in the south Asian and wider communities.
“People have glamorised drug dealing, they have been groomed into become dealers and mules.
“Mosques and community centres have to start stepping up about why it’s a wrong choice and the damage drugs causes to so many lives.”
Shafiq added: “They are not academically gifted, they are properly in dead end work or working part-time or on a zero hours contract. They think they haven’t got a future or career and want quick, easy money.
“There is a denial element. In Rochdale you have people who don’t work and have 2019 cars parked outside their house. People do not ask where the money has come from.
“I do not recall a Friday khutbah [sermon] addressing this. Religion can be a way out of evil, it is a powerful tool.”
Last year, the government unveiled a multi-agency, 38-strong team of experts from the National Crime Agency, police officers and regional organised crime units to tackle drug dealing gangs.