Welsh Charity In Drug Storm

Bosses of a leading Welsh charity which helps children in Africa have admitted backing plans to import thousands of tonnes of a controversial drug into Britain. The Samburu Maasai Wales Aid group is well known for its fundraising to help tribes in northern Kenya.

Founded in 1998 by Port Talbot couple John and Margaret Walters, the organisation supplies clothing, books and bicycles to nomads and their children.

But the pair have come under fire after backing plans to import three tons of the drug miraa – commonly known as khat – into the UK on a daily basis.

The green-leafed chewable shrub is legal in Britain, but it is banned in many others – including the USA, Canada, Sweden and Norway – because it contains chemicals similar to amphetamines. Although khat gives users a sense of high spirits, there are concerns it causes depression and physical or psychological dependence.

E-mails passed to Wales on Sunday show how Mr Walters has made contact with cargo chiefs at Ethiopian Airlines in a bid to import up to three tons of the drug on a daily basis into Heathrow Airport.

One e-mail, sent a fortnight ago, tells how he is seeking a price to import the drug from Nairobi seven days a week for 12 months, while another says Mr Walters will finance the shipping via his own bank account.

On Friday, Margaret Walters admitted her husband had made enquiries about importing, but insisted everything he had done was above board and legal. She told Wales on Sunday the use of khat is part of Somali culture and her husband was merely making enquiries on behalf of an undisclosed third party.

Mrs Walters said: “This is our e-mail address, but there is nothing wrong with what my husband has done. It’s legal and above board. All he has done is make an enquiry. We know a lot of people out in Kenya. He has done it on behalf of someone else. I’m not going to tell you who they are. Khat is not a drug. It’s part of Somali culture.”

Mrs Walters declined to say whether the several tons of the “drug” could be heading to Wales or who it would be sold to. But her husband’s support has been criticised by the Somali Integration Society (SIS), which says the importation of such large amounts of khat could pose a serious threat to Wales’ 7,000-strong Somali community.

Cardiff has the largest Somali population in the UK. It is one of the oldest ethnic groups in Wales, but it is also considered one of the most economically deprived and socially excluded communities.

Ibrahim Harbi, SIS national co-ordinator for Wales, said: “Khat may be legal, but we believe it does pose harm. There is a large Somali community in Wales and we believe khat is responsible for the disintegration of many families and unemployment.

“It may be the equivalent to popping down the pub for a pint in western culture, but khat is a contributory factor to a lot of young Somalis giving up on their education. It is a substance which is open to abuse. We already have a lot of concern about the substance. More of this substance arriving in Britain will only make the problem worse.”

Concern has also been raised by the Swansea-based Celtic Culture Exchange charity, which works with children and their families in Africa. A spokesman said: “I am very alarmed about the amount and regularity of use if this drug is going to be brought into the UK or Wales on a daily basis.

“I know miraa is legal in Britain, but I have been told by members of the Somali community in Wales that the drug will have a marked effect. We work with people out in Africa and I have seen first-hand the damage miraa can do and the effects it can have.”