Belgium, transit route for migrant smugglers

Telegram från AFP / Omni
24 okt. 2019, 17.32

Belgium, where a container in which 39 people were found dead in Britain on Wednesday originated from, is a major hub for migrants and people smugglers seeking to take advantage of the proximity to Britain.

The refrigerated truck arrived in Britain on a ferry from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge and prosecutors in Belgium have opened an investigation in parallel with the British one.

But the Federal Prosecutor's Office has said there is no evidence "for the moment" that the victims began their terrible journey in Belgium.

"The investigation will determine how long they've been dead. The container may have crossed the Channel with migrants already dead on board," François Gemenne, a migration expert, told AFP.

Whatever the case, the route taken by the container shows that Belgium, just 100 kilometres from the English coast, is now a privileged route to reach Britain.

There are currently estimated to be between 800 and 1,000 migrants on Belgian soil seeking to cross the Channel via Zeebrugge or the French ports just across the border.

This figure has remained largely unchanged since three years ago, when Belgium felt the direct fallout after the closure of an infamous camp in Calais in northern France sent 8,000 people seeking new shelter.

Many migrants, and the smugglers in their wake, moved to Belgium.

"There is a Paris-Brussels-Calais triangle where migrants move," said Mehdi Kassou, who leads a network of citizens sheltering illegal immigrants, often from the Middle East, Sudan or Eritrea.

Gemenne, a researcher at Liège University and Sciences Po in Paris, said police operations "determine migration routes".

In Belgium, police surveillance has been beefed-up at motorway car parks where trucks stop on their way to Britain and where migrants hide at night.

This has led smugglers to adapt their methods.

A network dismantled last month involving an Albanian gang organised smuggling smuggling operations from a hotel in Ghent.

But experts believe pointing the finger at smugglers is too easy and that structural solutions -- often politically difficult -- are too easily sidelined.

An EU-wide asylum reform is currently at an impasse and the so-called Dublin Regulation that continues to entrust the processing of asylum applications to the first country of entry, essentially Greece or Italy, is failing.

"We are stuck in a situation that inevitably leads people to their death or into the hands of traffickers who lead them to their death," said Kassou.

"As long as England remains an attractive destination for them, which has been the case for quite some time and will probably remain so even after Brexit, we will have migrants who will absolutely want to cross this border," Gemenne said.

And "smugglers could not give a damn about the fate of migrants", he said.

"The sordid characteristic of this trafficking is that if you lose the goods, no one makes a claim for them."