Eight migrants remain missing after trying to cross from Belgium to the United Kingdom. A total of 14 people are believed to have set out from De Panne but were forced to swim back to shore when their boat capsized. Six of the migrants, who are from Afghanistan and Iran, were taken in custody on Tuesday.
French and Belgian police started searching the coast after a local resident reported that a man in wet clothes and suffering from hypothermia had rung his doorbell. The man claimed to be from Afghanistan and said he had set out in a boat with 13
other migrants, according to a news statement on the Westkust police website. Police later found five people, who said they were Iranian, in a bus
heading to France.
As of late Tuesday, the eight remaining migrants could not be found. Local police confirmed to InfoMigrants that the search had ended by mid-afternoon. A report from the French-language public broadcaster RTBF said two minors were believed to be among the missing group.
It is the first time that people are known to have tried to
reach the UK from the beach at De Panne. The local mayor, Bram Degrieck, told RTBF's Dutch-language counterpart VRT that he had never faced the problem before.
Migrants have generally tried to reach the UK from the coast of France, but controls there have recently been stepped up. Nico Paelinck, the head of the Westkust police, says human traffickers are trying new routes "to avoid the controls that are being reinforced on the French side."
The distance to the UK from Belgium (70 kilometers) is more than twice as long as from Calais in France to the English port of Dover (33 kilometers).
Paelinck told RTBF that attempting the crossing was very risky, but "the migrants are really desperate. …We have already seen movement from the port of Nieuwpoort but never from a beach with these cold, near-zero temperatures and fog. And on top of that on a very busy sea route," Paelinck said.
Channel crossing attempt
More than 40 people, including 11 children, were picked up by French authorities trying to cross the English Channel on Tuesday. 35 were taken into custody after their boat ended up on a beach in the Pas-de-Calais region, AFP reported. The group included Iranians and Iraqi nationals. Another six migrants were "rescued against their will" when they failed to cooperate with an approaching patrol vessel, according to the maritime police office.
In the past three weeks at least 53 people have been stopped by French authorities while trying to cross the English Channel. Last year, AFP reports that 2,758 migrants were intercepted on the route. According to research by the BBC, at least 1,890 migrants reached the UK in 2019.