Inside Belgium’s zero-tolerance approach to stop small boat migrant crossings using drones, cameras and patrols

Officials in Belgium are halting small boat crossings into Britain thanks to a zero-tolerance policy that shames their French counterparts.

Police officers guarding Belgian ports and a nine-mile stretch of coastline across from Britain have seen a 92 percent drop in people smuggling in the last five years.

Belgium halts small boat crossings to UK on zero-tolerance approach


Belgium halts small boat crossings to UK on zero-tolerance approachPhoto credit: Steve Finn
Tent cities housing migrants are regularly being dismantled on the west coast of Belgium


Tent cities housing migrants are regularly being dismantled on the west coast of BelgiumPhoto credit: Reuters

Unlike French naval ships, which accompany refugee boats until they reach British waters, the Belgians intercepted the dinghies and arrested everyone on board.

A sophisticated network of sensors, cameras, barricades and drones – supported by a Frontex surveillance plane and police patrols – have stopped the criminal gangs.

On the west coast of Belgium, tent cities housing migrants are regularly dismantled and anyone deemed an illegal immigrant is immediately jailed.

The crackdown is being overseen by police chief Nico Paelinck, who has criticized the Dunkirk socialist leaders for failing to stop the migrants.

Speaking from the police headquarters in the coastal town of Koksijde, he said: “The politicians here do not want the same situation as in France and on the island of Lampedusa in Italy.”

“We know that if the criminal organizations see that they can easily launch small boats from here, we will attract them from all over Europe – and we don’t want people to drown on our beaches.

“We want to avoid the illegal camps that exist in France – so as soon as we see a tent we take it down because if you allow one, you have 30.”

“The governor here is very strong in that regard and we currently have no illegal camps.

“Disrupt supply chains”

“We see that the smuggling gangs are now avoiding this region, so the policy is working.

“And we are striving for West Belgium to become a restricted zone for smugglers.”

The coastal town of De Panne is just across the border with France and about ten miles from Dunkirk, where hundreds of migrants live in makeshift camps.

It takes an hour to reach British waters from De Panne, but police have only dealt with four smuggling incidents on Belgium’s west coast this year.

Across Belgium, just 944 people were spotted making their way to the UK last year – compared to 12,848 in 2018.

The statistics are in stark contrast to those in France – from where 16,659 migrants have made their way to the UK since January.

Just 13,759 were intercepted on the beach – down from 17,032 in the same period last year.

Once migrants reach the English Channel, the numbers are even worse.

So far this year only 511 boats have been stopped compared to 856 in the same period last year.

The boats carry an average of more than 50 people per crossing and sometimes carry up to 70 people.

British officials are extremely frustrated that French police are struggling to cope despite being awarded £480million in funding under a three-year Anglo-French deal agreed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in March.

Belgium has only received £10m from the Home Office.

Investments from our government have funded a dozen new drones, beach vehicles and security personnel to monitor CCTV cameras.

Mr Paelinck has a somber opinion of Dunkirk Mayor Patrice Vergriete, 55, who served for years for the French Socialist Party and is now in President Macron’s government.

He added: “I don’t understand why the French aren’t doing what we are doing.

Police Inspector Christiaan de Ridder uses drones and dune buggies to crack down on evil people smugglers


Police Inspector Christiaan de Ridder uses drones and dune buggies to crack down on evil people smugglersCredit: Chris Eades

“But Dunkirk is ruled by socialists. It is the difference between the political left and the right.

“Here we are on the right and the mayors do not want illegal camps on their territory. Gypsies and Roma are also not allowed to camp here.

“We implement what the politicians want. We are determined to cut the smugglers’ supply chains as they come here from Germany with their nautical equipment – life jackets, boats and so on.

“We have patrols throughout the region and are also disrupting their activities on the beach through the use of drones, buggies and SUVs. We have a Frontex plane that flies up and down the coast at night and gives us their positions.

“The plane sees everything from train tracks to tents to cars in the dunes.

“It compares the photos taken by the crew with satellite imagery of the area to discover anything new. Cavalry on horseback patrol the dunes during the day and we have night cameras and sensors.

“The big difference between here and France is that we have 15km of beach compared to 200km or 300km. For legal reasons, they cannot use drones there to track down illegal immigrants. Also, if the French see a small boat on the water, it is not a police matter, it is a search and rescue operation and they will escort the boat into British waters.

“For us we intercept the boat and bring it back to Belgium. We arrest the people on board and analyze their mobile phones to track down the human traffickers. The migrants have one day to decide whether to apply for asylum in Belgium or leave the country. Being illegal in Belgium is a crime.

“Migrants know they can work on the black market in your country. Here they need a work permit and the rules are strictly observed. In Belgium you must have an identity card. If you don’t have one with you, you will be arrested. You don’t have ID in England, so it’s easy to disappear.”

His colleague, Police Commissioner Christiaan de Ridder, said the no-nonsense approach had been adopted across Belgium.

He said: “They secured the ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend and they secured the port.

“There are cameras, X-rays, dogs, fences, security guards and police. The only way to get to the ports right now is to hop in a truck on the highway and hope not to be spotted. However, if you are caught trying to sneak into the port, you will be arrested and brought before a judge.

“We used to have hundreds of migrants trying to sneak into ports at night and now we don’t have any.”

The Sun On Sunday visited Belgian coastal towns and the only migrants found were in a well-preserved building at the old airbase, a ten-minute drive from the coast.

Afghan refugee Ibrahim Ahmadzai, previously a security officer at the British embassy in Kabul, fled when the Taliban took power.

He is one of about 300 people living in the center of Koksijde.

He has been there for almost a year and has applied for asylum in Belgium.

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Ibrahim, 28, admitted: “There are some people in the center who want to travel to the UK. If they don’t like it here, they tear up their ID cards and travel to France.

“You cannot take a boat from Belgium because the police and army are everywhere and they are very strict.”

Belgian border troops can stop small boats more effectively than the French, and at a fraction of the cost


Belgian border troops can stop small boats more effectively than the French, and at a fraction of the costCredit: Chris Eades
Belgium's crackdown is being overseen by Police Chief Nico Paelinck


Belgium’s crackdown is being overseen by Police Chief Nico PaelinckCredit: Chris Eades

Edmuns DeMars

Edmund DeMarche is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Edmund DeMarche joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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