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International students victims of drug smugglers

INTERNATIONAL students are getting caught up in the illegal drug trade by accepting parcels on behalf of strangers for cash. Amanda Yap reports.

Seized ContacNT that was found in a coffee pot. Photo: Customs and Border Protection

The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service says international students are being implicated in organised crime by accepting parcels from strangers in exchange for money.

These parcels often contained chemicals such as pseudophedrine that were used to manufacture illegal drugs like amphetamines and methamphetamines.

Unsuspecting students had taken delivery of these chemicals and passed them into the supply chains of organised criminal gangs.

Customs and Border Protection National Manager Investigations Kingsley Woodford-Smith said there had been a noticeable rise in the detections of over-the-counter cold and flu medication, ContactNT, in 2011.

The medication, containing high amounts of pseudophedrine, arrived in Australia by courier or international mail, the department found.

“We are very concerned about members of the community and particularly the growing number of students that are getting caught up in this web,” Mr Woodford-Smith said.

“Often international students, particularly those from China, are offered money to pick up what they think is an innocent package, but are then arrested by Customs and Border Protection and can either go to jail or be sent back to China, while the gang members reap all the money and evade detection.”

In November 2011, Chinese student Jian Zheng was sentenced to eight months imprisonment in Melbourne for attempting to import ContacNT containing four kilograms of pseudoephedrine into the country.

A few weeks later, Chinese student Jie Wang, 21, was sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment for the same reason.

Melbourne City Councillor Ken Ong believed the community must work together to curb this problem.

“We all need to take an interest in this because it is very important to protect all people in the community from these substances, also to protect innocent people from being tricked into earning so-called ‘easy money’ by picking up these packages,” he said.

Photo: Customs and Border Protection

University outreach

The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service has sought assistance from 195 educational institutions to generate awareness about this problem.

“Of the institutes contacted, they were interested in the issue and wanted to continue to help us get the message across to international students,” a spokeswoman said.

“The majority contacted in Sydney and Melbourne forwarded information to students via intranet sites, student forums, direct email, newsletters and some displayed information on noticeboards.”

The information sent out urged students to be wary of being approached to accept parcels for money via the Internet or through bulletin boards.

It also said international students should not respond to advertisements they were unsure of.

Customs warned accepting a parcel containing illicit substances to make money could result in imprisonment for up to 15 years, or a fine of up to AUD $330,000, or both, as well as possible deportation from Australia following a jail term.

International students were also reminded that being involved in crime and having a subsequent criminal record would affect their freedom to travel to and study in other countries.

The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service regards the issue of students who accept parcels on behalf of unknown people as a very serious matter. 

If you, or someone you know, has been approached to partake in this activity, call Customs Watch on 1800 06 1800. Calls can be made anonymously.

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About

Meld Magazine was incorporated as an independent not-for-profit media outlet in September 2008 to reach out to international students in Melbourne, and provide students the opportunity to gain real work experience.

Many international students live in or around the city because of the proximity to their colleges and universities, and that was where we decided to focus our efforts first. Many of us live, work and study locally too. Our editorial team is made of both local and international students, and it has worked to our advantage in providing local content in every sense of the word.

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