Macron urged to follow Belgium as UK plans new migration deal with EU

Small boat arrivals continue in the English Channel

The number of migrants attempting to cross the English Channel from Belgium has significantly reduced in recent years, after a crackdown by Belgian authorities.

The government there implemented stricter measures to prevent smugglers from transporting migrants to the UK, resulting in a sharp decline in those making the journey.

The successful efforts by the Belgian government to halt migrant crossings has led to calls for French President Emmanuel Macron to use neighbouring Belgium as a template.

In 2018, Belgian officials stopped 12,800 migrants from crossing the Channel, but this fell to 944 in 2022.

This is as a result of tougher penalties for people smugglers and increased police checks. Additionally, Belgian officials are now allowed to confiscate the phones of people caught attempting to cross the Channel, extracting data to help identify smugglers.

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It also intercepts the small boats at sea, unlike France.

The French government decision to not intercept sea-borne dinghies comes after police were accused of recklessly endangering human life by slashing at an overloaded dinghy in June 2022.

Speaking to, Dr Alan Mendoza, Executive Director of the Henry Jackson Society, said there was a need for France and Belgium to adopt a joint approach.

He said: “These measures from the Belgian government demonstrate a joined-up strategy in preventing what is a heinous crime. Criminal gangs are exploiting vulnerabilities in both policy and those making the crossing.”

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Dr Mendoza called on French authorities to adopt a similar approach to Belgium and implement robust policies to address the issue.

He also called for collaboration among all involved in the migration crisis.

He said: “French authorities must begin taking a similar approach to Belgium – where very few migrant crossings originate – and implement robust policies to account for the £480 million funding deal with the UK to help stop the small boats.”

The UK has reached a preliminary agreement with the European Union to access its border agency, Frontex.

The deal, which is expected to be announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak next month, aims to address the issue of migration. However, negotiations are still ongoing, and the exact details of the agreement have not been finalised.

While the UK has established bilateral agreements with countries like Turkey to combat people-smuggling gangs and illegal migration, it no longer has returns agreements with the EU since leaving the bloc in 2020.

The UK government hopes to reach an agreement with the EU on returning individuals who have crossed the Channel, but the spokesman for Prime Minister Sunak said: “We want to look at everything as a whole.”

“It’s clear we require a joined-up approach to this crisis. The case of Belgium demonstrates that all those with a stake in the migration crisis have their part to play and as such, it is not uncommon for non-EU member states to be in a Frontex agreement when it suits their needs,” Dr Mendoza added.

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