The Cook Islands aren’t yet ready to deal with gangsters and meth addicts, say leading experts.
The country received sharp warnings yesterday.
First, top clinical psychologist Dr Evangelene Daniela-Wong speaking to Cook Islands News said there were not enough health services to deal with the rising numbers of drug addicts, and Ministry of Health was urgently working to address the problem.
Secondly, it emerged government has asked the Combined Law Agency Group to handle growing problems with meth smuggling and dealing.
Then finally, Principal Immigration Officer Kairangi Samuela warned the Cooks were still vulnerable to organised crime infiltrating the borders.
In a statement, Samuela confirmed Immigration had last month stopped six known members of a New Zealand-based street gang from entering the country – and has blacklisted nearly 200 more. The six had tried to visit Rarotonga for “recreational purposes”.
Cook Islands tightened immigration laws in 2017, empowering the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI) to refuse entry to known gang affiliates, ex-cons and others who are considered a threat to the safety and security of the Cook Islands.
Of those 200 gangs and criminals on the blacklist, 30 had at different times attempted to fly to Rarotonga and been turned away from their flight out of Auckland, or stopped and turned around on arrival in Rarotonga.
But it was not enough: “It must be acknowledged that the intelligence networks of MFAI, as with all countries in the world, aren’t foolproof,” Samuela said.
“Gang affiliates and individuals who would pose a threat to the safety and security of the Cook Islands aren’t always known to MFAI or its regional and international networks.
“Our community have an important role in being vigilant and reporting where they become aware of information which needs to be made known to border control agencies like MFAI,” said Samuela.