ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
Updated: January 05, 2017 09:27 AM GMT
Father John Wotherspoon, right, meets a parent of a Tanzanian inmate during a trip to Tanzania in January 2015. (Photo supplied)
An Australian missionary is discouraging African drug traffickers from entering Hong Kong by asking inmates to send testimonies back to their home countries.
After learning about the rising number of African drug traffickers imprisoned in Hong Kong, Oblate Father John Wotherspoon, a prison chaplain, launched an anti-drug campaign.
The campaign invites inmates to write letters warning their fellow nationals not to repeat their mistakes. Father Wotherspoon publishes the letters on a website.
According to the priest, before the campaign around 30 Tanzanian drug traffickers were apprehended at the airport and imprisoned in 2012-13. In 2016 there were only three such arrests.
"It has stopped around 100 traffickers from entering Hong Kong in the past three years," said Father Wotherspoon.
The campaign combats the lack of information in home countries. "People do not know that they may be sentenced to jail for 10 to 12 years if caught," said Father Wotherspoon.
David Sham, vice chair of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's Ozanam Centre, said that people from impoverished countries were easy targets for trafficking agents who promise a better life.
"Father Wotherspoon's campaign is very helpful to tell them the truth," he told ucanews.com.
Hong Kong provides a popular transit route for drug trafficking because of its proximity China’s sizeable cocaine market. Hong Kong is also relatively accessible, because its port lacks fingerprint checks or the requirement of a visa for citizens from many African countries.
Among the letters published is that of a 40 year-old Tanzanian woman jailed in 2016.
Writing in English and Swahili, the woman recounts how two Nigerian men persuaded her to pick up drugs in Dubai and take them to China via Hong Kong.
She appeals to her fellow Tanzanians: "However much poverty may lead you, do not be tempted to either use drugs or traffic it to countries around the world.
"Now, I am in prison and have left my family suffering. Avoid this before it happens to you."
Father Wotherspoon's campaign also includes visits to Africa to share the message in person. After Christmas he will take his next one-month trip to South Africa, Lesotho and other countries.
"I will visit around 30 inmates’ families and bring them messages and donations. I’ll also try to gather them together as a supportive group to help each other," said the priest.
Father Wotherspoon’s campaign is self-financed, with local friends sponsoring his trip. He expressed hope that the next Hong Kong Chief Executive might consider allocating resources to the campaign to increase its effectiveness.