Transmigration through Belgium down 90 per cent since 2018
Human traffickers are increasingly abandoning Belgium as a transit country in their attempt to smuggle migrants into the UK, federal Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne revealed at a press conference on Wednesday.
Transmigrants are described as migrants who do not intend to request asylum in Belgium, either because they don't have the opportunity to receive refugee status or because they intend to demand asylum in another country. Many of these migrants today use Belgium as an intermediate country on their way to the United Kingdom. In 2018, Belgian police still discovered nearly 13,000 transmigrants. Notably, this number dropped by 90 per cent in recent years, to 1,065 in 2022. In 2021, there were still 4,100.
According to Justice minister Van Quickenborne, this decline is partly due to frequent police controls, comprehensive international cooperation against human trafficking, the use of data discovered on confiscated smartphones by the Federal Judicial Police (FGP) and strict penalties for human traffickers.
In the province of West Flanders alone, 116 human traffickers have been convicted since the beginning of 2019. Prison sentences in these cases range up to 15 years.
"We absolutely want to avoid our country becoming a Valhalla for transmigration, and certainly for the smugglers behind these operations", says van Quickenborne. "Two years ago, we set up the TransIT team to systematically analyse mobile phone data in the search for the networks behind them."
The TransIT team consists of about five people at FGP West Flanders. "However, the team mostly cooperates with local police and the maritime police", Van Quickenborne explains. "We will expand this cooperation to several police zones in the province. In addition, their information will be shared with the Immigration Department so that transmigrants can be deported to their country of origin."
The fact that climbing into trucks, a common practice in the port of Zeebrugge, has been made punishable acts as an additional deterrent for transmigration, the minister claims. The number of break-ins in Zeebrugge has dropped drastically from 2,500 in 2018 to 250 last year, according to figures released by West Flanders governor Carl Decaluwé.
Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne © BELGA PHOTO KURT DESPLENTER
Video shows Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne during a visit to the maritime police headquarters in Ostend, West Flanders province © BELGA VIDEO MAARTEN WEYNANTS