Search continues for missing transit migrants

The search is continuing in the West Flemish coastal municipality of De Panne for 8 transit migrants that fled after having swam to shore. According to information from the Governor of West Flanders Carl Decaluwé (Christian democrat) they were among a group of 14 Afghans that had attempted to set off from De Panne in a boat to cross the North Sea and enter the UK illegally. They were forced to abandon their boat and swim to shore. 6 members of the group were found soon afterwards.

Belgian police are receiving assistance from their French colleagues to try and find the remaining 8 migrants that are believed to have gone to ground in the dunes.      

The transit migrants are believed to have swam for at least five minutes in the icy waters of the North Sea in order to reach the shore. This is sufficient for them to have contracted hyperthermia.  

The Mayor of De Panne Bram Degrieck (local list) told VRT News that "The people we have found have told us that everyone from the group had reached land. However, we are still searching for a number of people”.  

"Not the first time"

Drones are being used in the search for the 8 migrants that are still missing. However, weather conditions aren’t aiding the search efforts. Earlier on Tuesday morning a helicopter was unable to take off. Belgian and French police are working together in the search and the related investigation into people smuggling.   

Early on Tuesday morning local residents alerted police that they had seen “suspicious activities”. The Coast Guard reports that at 5am someone that was soaking wet rang to doorbell of a house to raise the alarm. A little later rucksacks were found on the beach.    

It is not the first time that transit migrants have tried to cross the North Sea from De Panne. However, Mayor Degriek told VRT News “As far as I know, it is the first time that it has happened on such a large scale. This is an issue that confronts us all”.