Hundreds of British nationals are currently locked up in prisons across the globe for drug-related offences, often detained for months without trial and facing distressing living conditions. In Portugal, the number of Brits arrested for drug offences has tripled in the past year.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), in conjunction with the charity Prisoners Abroad, has launched a campaign to highlight the consequences of the use, possession and smuggling of drugs in Portugal and countries around the world.
The zero-tolerance approach of some countries often results in strict penalties which can come as a shock to British travellers. In Portugal offenders may, in some circumstances, be held on remand for a year before their trial. Even if released on bail, in most cases, they will be unable to leave the country.
Offences that may carry cautions in the UK are often penalised with long prison sentences overseas. Some drug crimes can lead to even more severe penalties – 33 countries or territories enforce death sentences for drug offences.
Out of the large number of cases it deals with, Prisoners Abroad is currently supporting 84 Brits between the ages of 18 and 30 who are being held in foreign countries for drugs offences, with 62 yet to face a trial.*
Terry Daniels and Billy Burton are two British nationals that have seen valuable years of their life spent in prisons overseas. Terry was sentenced by a Spanish court to 10 years in prison for drug smuggling on the basis of guilt by association, while Billy was charged with smuggling marijuana out of the Philippines. Both want to see the number of Britons involved in drugs in other countries reduced and have described their experiences in a video called “Drugs: Mess up. Miss out” to warn others not to make their mistakes: search for it on youtube or on the following link http://youtu.be/IqtWoNBk4GQ
Even in Portugal, the consequences of being detained for a drugs offence can be devastating. Jill Gallard, British Ambassador to Portugal comments:
“Being sent to prison overseas away from family and friends is very distressing and even more so if you don’t speak the language. We see people of all ages - from youngsters through to pensioners - who have lost their friends, their job, had to give up their studies or had their children taken into care and got into major financial difficulties because they did not think they would get caught. If you or someone you know is involved with illegal drugs in any way, then the message is clear: the consequences are simply not worth it.”
More information on the help you get from the FCO if you are arrested abroad can be found on www.gov.uk.
• *Latest figures from Prisoners Abroad
• ** Figures from Harm Reduction International: http://www.ihra.net/contents/1290
• The FCO’s Know Before You Go campaign encourages British nationals to prepare for their foreign travel so they can avoid preventable problems. A full holiday checklist can be found at www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-checklist
• Prisoners Abroad is a charity that provides support for Britons imprisoned overseas and their families in the UK. Right now the charity is supporting over 1,200 prisoners in 80 countries across five continents
• 12 British nationals were arrested for drug-related offences in Portugal in 2012-13, as outlined in the FCO’s annual British Behaviour Abroad report published in July 2013: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/british-behaviour-abroad-report-2013