The number of migrants being stopped from crossing the Channel by Belgian authorities has dropped sharply between 2018 and 2022.
But the sharp decrease is not due to Brussels turning a blind eye to small boats trying to reach Britain from its shore.
Rather, the fall from 12,800 in 2018 to 944 last year of transiting migrants intercepted is the result of a crackdown launched by the country’s government, which has adopted stricter measures over the years – aimed at preventing smugglers from taking migrants to UK shores.
Belgian ministers have introduced tougher penalties for people smugglers and increased police checks.
Moreover, the Belgian law now allows officials to seize the phones of people caught attempting to cross the Channel in order to extract the data to help identify their smugglers.
Another decisive measure helping to deter smugglers from attempting to depart from Belgium is the fact the country intercepts small boats even when they are at sea – unlike France.
The Belgian success in deterring smugglers from conducting their illegal business at sea puts French President Emmanuel Macron to shame as it emerged his country is adopting in most cases a policy of not intervening when it comes to small boats in the Channel.
This policy reportedly issued by France‘s Departmental Board of the National Police in August last year is believed to have been dictated by fears of legal action in light of a complaint filed by human rights campaign organisation Utopia 56.
The group accused the French police of endangering human life, saying that in June 2022 officers had slashed an overloaded dinghy that had just left its shores to stop it from heading out towards Britain.
In a bid to stop the risk of migrants’ boats capsizing if they are scared by the presence of authorities, France is known only to intervene when smugglers’ dinghies are in distress, and when the migrants are believed to be likely to cooperate.
Given the fear linked to the risks coming with intercepting small boats in the water and the refusal of many migrants to be helped before they reach British territory, French navy patrol vessels have reportedly ended up shadowing or escorting boats to UK waters.
The French reluctance to help Britain curb the number of small boat crossings comes despite the UK agreeing in March to pay Paris around £480 million over three years to this very end.
On Tuesday, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick was asked if London was “paying the wrong country”, to which he replied: “Despite elevating relations with France to their highest level for many years and doing a great deal of work, there is clearly more that we need them to do for us.”
Conservative MP Tim Loughton had previously noted that the number of migrant boats stopped from leaving France has fallen to 45.2 percent, down from 45.8 last year.
Mr Loughton, a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, added Belgium is instead stopping 90 percent of the crossings attempted from its shore.
Mr Jenrick added: “[Mr Loughton] is particularly right to focus on Belgium. I visited Belgium recently and met the Belgian interior minister, and the approach that they have taken has been extremely helpful. They’ve worked very closely with the National Crime Agency, Border Force, police forces in the UK and with respect to small boats leaving their shores, they’ve been willing to intercept the boats in the water.
“That has proven decisive. And now small boat crossings are extremely rare from Belgium. So that is an approach that we would like to encourage the French to follow.”
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