The governor of West Flanders province, Carl Decaluwé, has called for drones to be used at the coast to stop migrants from making the dangerous crossing to the UK.
Yesterday, 14 migrants from Afghanistan and Iran ended up in the water when they tried to make the crossing in an overcrowded boat, which sank under the weight. All managed to make it to shore at De Panne, where six were picked up. Eight others, including two minors, are still at large.
Decaluwé said he is prepared to cooperate with the local authorities at the coast in northern France, as well as the European border and coastal agency Frontex. Since the closure of the makeshift encampment known as the Jungle at Calais, transmigrants heading for the UK have more northwards, intent on making the crossing themselves.
The 14 migrants who narrowly escaped drowning yesterday are presumed to have been equipped by a gang of human traffickers. Those who were taken into custody are being questioned to try to identify the traffickers.
“The problem is being displaced from northern France to here,” Decaluwé said. “The French have deployed soldiers to patrol the beaches, so the pressure on us will grow. It is also more dangerous, since the distance from here over the sea is a good bit longer than from France.”
The drones will not be appearing in the sky over the Belgian beaches any time soon. First the two countries have to compare notes on their laws regarding the use of drones, and protection of privacy, for example.
“The drones have to operate in two different airspaces to be able to keep an eye on everything. We need to employ innovative methods, but those cost money. You can’t just put a policeman every ten metres to watch over everything.”
According to the RTBF, last year saw at least 173 boats making the crossing from France to the UK, carrying 1,948 migrants.