Somalilandsun – This week, Somali women in the borough celebrated the news as they wave goodbye to the plant blamed by many for unemployment, poverty and abuse.
“We’re really happy ¬because it completely breaks up our society,” said Saido Ahmed, the secretary of the Barking Somali Community Association.
“It divorces families and they are left broken because they have no money.
“The children have no food. They would never go on holiday. Nothing. Because the men spend it all on khat.”
Saido, 50, of Tanner Street, Barking, said the most ¬worrying thing about the drug is the violence it causes.
She claimed she had known cases of men killing each other to get their hands on the plant, adding it increases ¬unemployment by making users “unmotivated and tired”.
“When they eat it, it makes them aggressive and want to fight more,” she added. “It causes mental diseases. It ¬really is an awful thing.
“It’s very addictive and leaves the women crying at home when the men go out chewing it.
“I think it should have been banned a long time ago but we’re just happy it’s ¬finally happened.”
The herbal stimulant, grown in Africa and popular among the middle-aged, male Somali community in the UK, became illegal last week. Police have been told to ¬issue a “khat warning” for a first offence, then a £60 fine.
Only if caught using khat on a third occasion would a person face arrest, according to guidance issued by the ¬Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).
Saido said Barking and Dagenham users travel to Upton Park and East Ham in Newham to get hold of khat as it isn’t readily available in the borough.
Chewing the plant is a ¬social pastime, part of the fabric of Somali and other immigrant communities in the UK.
“People selling the plant are not happy at all and people who want to carry on chewing it are annoyed they won’t be able to now,” added Saido. “My uncle is sick with shock at the news. He chews it a lot so he’s not happy, but he’s got really high blood pressure and can’t sleep ¬because of it. It’s so silly.”
A Home Office spokesman said the ban will prevent the UK from becoming a single regional hub for criminals trying to make a profit, as countries across Europe have already implemented the ban. She added: “Drug misuse has a serious impact on society and the ban on khat will help protect vulnerable members of our community.”
Police are taking the o¬pportunity to educate ¬affected communities with high concentrations of khat users across London about the classification.
This includes speaking to Somali media, working with third sector organisations and visits to mafreshis (chewing houses) and khat retail outlets where users congregate. Mafreshi owners are being encourgaed to turn their premises into regular cafés. “We hold a lot of classes at the Somali centre in Barking,” said Saido.
“We help people who are addicted to it and we offer advice. There was a big party in Ealing on the night it was banned so we celebrated there. About 50 of us from Barking and Dagenham went.”
By Anna Silverman, Reporter Barking and Dagenham post