Hot! Nigerians in Thailand: Two Sides to Every Story

By Jennifer L. Patin

2012 has already seen multiple raids on the areas of Bangkok where the majority of the city’s African population congregates. These locales include Sukhimvit Road’s Nana area (specifically Soi 3 and Soi 3 ½) and Ramkhanhaeng Road of the Bang Kapi District. Photos of African men with heads bowed, handcuffed and kneeling on the ground have littered some of Thailand’s top English language online media outlets. Thai police, narcotics officers, and immigration officials are known to rip through areas of Bangkok heavily populated with West Africans demanding passports and often sniffing out illegal drugs.[1]  

A couple of logical inferences can be drawn from the news coverage surrounding these incidents: 1. Thai law enforcement entities are purposely raiding West African areas of Bangkok, therefore West Africans in Bangkok are suspected of illegal activities. 2. Thai authorities are actually finding illegal drugs in possession of West Africans; therefore some of these suspects are indeed committing illegal activities. It is the Who, How, and Why of this problem in Thailand that is not often investigated. Who are the Africans in Thailand, particularly the Nigerians? How do they end up in Thailand? Why are large numbers involved in the trafficking, producing, and selling of drugs? And how do the actions of some Africans affect the daily lives of all Africans living in Thailand and abroad?

Nigerians were first seen in relatively large numbers in Thailand in the early 1980s. At that time, they came for trading opportunities, especially for the import and export of clothes and gemstones.[2] Thailand rice exporters later formed a relationship with Nigeria that continues to be profitable for the Kingdom, with Nigeria becoming the world’s largest importer of Thai rice in 2010.[3]

Nigerian organized drug trafficking syndicates started spreading throughout Asia in the late 1980s to early 1990s. Thailand became their base for obtaining heroin and then smuggling it to other Asian countries, like Hong Kong or Taiwan, and then onward to the United States and Europe. As the Nigerian organized crime groups grew in reputation and sophistication, professional Nigerian traffickers began being noticed and recruited by drug lords in South America, Columbia in particular, and a few parts of Europe. [4]

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[1] “12 Africans arrested for drug dealing.” 2012. The Bangkok Post Online. 3 May 2012. <http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/282167/african-suspected-drug-dealers-arrested>.

[2] Howard, Michael C. “Nigerian Transnatioal Criminal Networks.” Transnationalism and Society: An Introduction. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 2011. 158. Online. 5 May 2012 <http://books.google.co.th/books?id=Qy4YtuIHsQcC&pg=PA158&dq=nigerians+thailand&hl=en&sa=X&ei=UIaXT9PdFMLqrAeCioWuAQ&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=nigerians%20thailand&f=false>

[3] “Nigeria rice demand brisk.” 2011. The Bangkok Post Online. 5 May 2012 <http://www.bangkokpost.com/business/economics/232746/nigeria-rice-demand-brisk>.

[4] Ellis, Stephen. “West Africa’s International Drug Trade.” Deviant Globalization: Black Market Economy in the 21st Century. Ed. Nils Gilman, Jesse Goldhammer, and Steve Weber. New York: Continuum, 2011. 121. Online. 5 May 2012 <http://books.google.co.th/books?id=QdBrbBnED0oC&pg=PA121&dq=nigerians+thailand&hl=en&sa=X&ei=N4mXT7bRBMryrQfYhsDaAQ&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=nigerians%20thailand&f=false>.