Large police operation against transit migrants in West Flanders

A number of police services in West Flanders staged a joint operation aimed at tracking down transit migrants. The operation took place at the motorway-side parking facilities at Westkerke, Jabbeke and Mannekensvere as well as at the port of Zeebrugge. All of these places are often frequented by people traffickers and transit migrants hoping to enter the UK illegally.     

The Interior Minister in Belgium’s caretaker federal government Pieter De Crem (Flemish Christian democrat) was present during the operation.  

The officer in charge of the operation lain De Laender told VRT News that 58 officers and a dog that is able to smell whether there are stowaways inside trailers. We also use CO2 detectors to check if people are hiding in lorries.  At Westkerke a drone was also used.                      

The Interior Minister Pieter De Crem told Radio West Flanders that “Transit migration is on the increase due to Brexit. People are misled by the traffickers and believe that they can still reach the UK via Belgium before 29 March”.

In 2018 they were 7,000 cases of transit migration recorded in West Flanders. The figures for early 2019 have remained more or less the same. However, there has been an increase over the past few weeks.    

On Thursday the Interior Minister told the Chamber of Representatives that the aim of the operation was to stop transit migration by showing that it doesn’t pay.

Mr De Crem added that transit migrants’ smartphones are being checked in an effort to track down and detain members of people smuggling gangs. Transit migrants are those in Belgium illegally and with no intention of asking for asylum here as they are en route to a third country, the UK.

In January the Federal Cabinet decided to dispatch 40 extra police officers to West Flanders to assist in operations against people traffickers and transit migrants. The first 10 have already been deployed.