NEWS: Honduran children in Canada selling drugs to pay off smuggling debts

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Jyothi Kanics---Global Survival Network (jkanics@igc.apc.org)
Wed, 22 Jul 1998 14:37:48 -0700 (PDT)


Drug ring lures kids as dealers: Hondurans as young as 11 deal crack in Vancouver
By Adrienne Tanner
Ottawa Citizen, July 20, 1998

VANCOUVER -- A professional drug ring is luring underage children from
Honduras to Vancouver, where they are being turned into indentured
street-corner crack dealers.

As many as 100 Honduran children have been smuggled overland into Canada
from the impoverished Central American country, says Staff Sgt. Doug
MacKay-Dunn of Vancouver police.

The Honduran smugglers pay their transportation costs and help them across
the Canadian border, which Staff Sgt. MacKay-Dunn admits is "like a sieve."

Once in Vancouver, the ringleaders set the children up in apartments, help
them file refugee claims and sign up for welfare. In return, the children
are turned out on the street to deal drugs.

"It's like something Charles Dickens wrote," says John Turvey, director of
the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Association. The children feel
indebted to their benefactors and see no other way to survive.

Some work the downtown strips of Vancouver, while others sell along the
suburband Skytrain routes. "Some of them are as young as 11 or 13 -- and
they have this huge debt," says alcohol and drug outreach worker Ingrid
Mendez.

Most come from dust-poor families and are illiterate. They have cagey
street-smarts. They vanish at the sight of police and are reluctant to talk
to the community youth workers. Police, immigration officials and
provincial child welfare workers have for months been looking for ways to
get the children off the streets. But unless they are caught dealing drugs,
there seems little anyone can do.

Children who make refugee claims are entitled to the same treatment as
adults, said Canada Immigration spokesman Dale Akerstrom.

They are given a date for an Immigration and Refugee Board hearing and are
not detained unless they are determined to be a danger to the public or
unlikely to show up.

British Columbia's Ministry of Children and Families will provide housing,
food and clothing to children who seek help, said Elaine Murray. "But to my
knowledge, we haven't had one come forward."

Ms. Murray said the ministry is aware of the Honduran street kids and is
working with the police and immigration officials to find some way to
repatriate the children.

Police are attacking the problem on many local fronts and also turning to
their American counterparts for advice. About 100 police officers and
community workers attended a meeting in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby
this week to meet with Portland, Oregon, police officers who dealt with an
identical problem in 1996-97.

"In our downtown area we had a very large group of folks selling Mexican
tar heroin and powdered cocaine," said Commander Bob Kauffman of the
Portland Police Bureau. The majority were Honduran and Mexican nationals
who enticed children to the U.S. to deal drugs, he said. "They think that
if kids get arrested, not much will happen to them."

Portland police cracked the ring by staging 3,400 "hand-to-hand" buys and
for a time arrested as many as 35 people a day, Cmdr. Kauffman said.

The city now has a reputation for taking a hard line on foreign drug
dealers, a victory Vancouver police suspect contributed to the northern
migration.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Rocky Rockwell said his officers do what they can to stop
the Honduran children from walking, hitching, swimming and hopping trains
into Canada. But with only four officers covering the entire
B.C.-Washington border, it's almost impossible to stop the flow.

Vancouver police say they're not going after the kids. "They are young
people being victimized -- we're focusing on the predators," said Staff
Sgt. MacKay-Dunn.

Meanwhile youth workers like Ms. Mendez will continue their efforts to
reach out to the children. The key is to let them know there are other
options and they don't have to deal drugs, she says.

It's a tough sell. "Once they get here and start seeing the money, they
don't want to get out of it."


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