From now on, a new police team will systematically examine the mobile phones of victims of human smugglers in an effort to track down the criminals involved.
The hope is that police will be able to map criminal networks, reports De Morgen.
“When victims of human trafficking are found, their mobile phone is often not read, although it is an important source of information,” said Belgium’s Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD).
“From now on, the police will systematically read the mobile phones they find, so that we can get a much better picture of the criminal organisations.”
The phones will be handled by a new West Flemish police team: the Transit Team, which stands for Transmigration Intelligence Team.
The team currently has eight members who specialise in mapping out the criminal networks behind human smuggling, which includes detectives, strategic analysts and crime analysts, as well as a permanent staff member of the Immigration Department and an expert from Europol who will be responsible for the international exchange of any data gathered.
When transmigrants are arrested on the coast after an ocean crossing – an issue Belgium and many other European countries struggle with – and there’s a suspicion of human trafficking, the police team will go through the phones of the victims.
Victims will get their mobile phones back almost immediately, as the phones are often the only means of communicating with their families.
If a victim refuses to cooperate with the police, the officer of the judicial police or the public prosecutor’s office can confiscate their mobile phone.
The new police team can immediately start working with the mobile phones of the 24 migrants who were rescued yesterday off the coast of Zeebrugge after their rubber boat ran into trouble.
The rescued migrants are said to be from Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Algeria.
Since 2019, the number of identifications of transmigrants has more than quadrupled. In the month of September alone, there were 8,000 migrants departing on boats from Belgium and France.