OFFICIALS in Belgium are stopping small boat crossings to Britain thanks to a zero-tolerance approach that shames their French counterparts.
Cops guarding Belgian ports and a nine-mile coastline facing Britain have overseen a 92 per cent reduction in people smuggling in the last five years.
Unlike French Navy ships that escort migrant boats until they reach UK waters, the Belgians have been intercepting the inflatables and arresting all on board.
A sophisticated network of sensors, cameras, barriers and drones — backed by a Frontex surveillance plane and police patrols — have stopped the criminal gangs in their tracks.
Tent cities housing migrants are regularly dismantled on Belgium’s west coast and anyone deemed an illegal immigrant is immediately locked up.
“We know that if the criminal organisations see they can easily launch small boats from here, we will attract them from all over Europe — and we don’t want people drowning on our beaches.
“We want to avoid the illegal encampments they have in France — so as soon as we see one tent we take it down, because if you allow one you will have 30.
“The governor here is very strong on that and we currently have no illegal camps.
‘Disrupt supply chains’
“We can see that the smuggler gangs are now avoiding this region, so the policy is working.
“And we are aiming for West Belgium to become a no-go zone for smugglers.”
The seaside town of De Panne is just over the border from France and roughly ten miles from Dunkirk, where hundreds of migrants live in makeshift camps.
It takes one hour to reach UK 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 detected making their way to Britain last year — compared to 12,848 in 2018.
The stats are in stark contrast to those in France — from where 16,659 migrants have made their way to Britain since January.
Just 13,759 were intercepted on the beach — down from 17,032 over the same period last year.
Once the migrants reach the Channel, the figures are worse.
Just 511 boats have been stopped so far this year compared to 856 in the same period last year.
The boats are averaging more than 50 people per crossing and sometimes carrying up to 70.
Belgium has been given just £10million by the Home Office.
Investment by our government has paid for a dozen new drones, beach vehicles and security staff to monitor CCTV cameras.
Mr Paelinck takes a dim view of the Mayor of Dunkirk Patrice Vergriete, 55, who served for France’s Socialist Party for years and is now in President Macron’s government.
He added: “I don’t understand why the French don’t do the same as us.
“But Dunkirk is run by socialists. It’s the difference between the political left and right.
“Here, we are on the right and the mayors don’t want illegal camps on their territory. Gypsies and Roma are not allowed to camp here either.
“We are executing what the politicians want. We are determined to disrupt the smugglers’ supply chains because they come here from Germany with their nautical gear — life jackets, boats and so on.
“We have patrols all over the region and we are also disturbing their activity on the beach by using drones, buggies and four-by-fours. We have a Frontex plane that passes up and down the coast at night that gives us their positions.
“The plane sees everything from tracks to tents to cars in the dunes.
“It compares the photos taken by the crew with satellite imaging of the area to spot anything new. Cavalry on horses patrol the dunes during the day and we have night cameras and sensors.
“The big difference between here and France is we have 15km of beach compared to their 200km or 300km. They can’t use drones to detect illegals because of legal issues there. Also, when the French see a small boat on the water it’s not considered a police matter, it’s search and rescue and they will escort the boat to UK waters.
“For us, we intercept the boat and bring it back to Belgium. We arrest the people on board and analyse their mobile phones so we can track down the people traffickers. The migrants have one day to decide whether to claim asylum in Belgium or to 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 rules are strictly enforced. You have to have an ID card in Belgium and if you do not carry one you will be arrested. In England, you don’t have ID cards, you can disappear easily.”
His colleague, Police Commissioner Christiaan de Ridder, said the no-nonsense approach has been replicated across Belgium.
He said: “They secured the ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend and they secured the harbour.
“There are cameras, X-rays, dogs, fences, security guards and police. The only way of getting into the ports now is by getting into a lorry on the highway and hoping you are not detected. But if you are caught trying to sneak into the port you are arrested and put before a judge.
“We used to have hundreds of migrants trying to sneak into the ports at night and now we don’t have any.”
The Sun On Sunday visited Belgium’s seaside towns and the only migrants to be found were in a well-maintained building on the old air force base, a ten-minute drive from the coast.
He is one of roughly 300 people living at the Koksijde centre.
He has been there nearly a year and has claimed asylum in Belgium.
Ibrahim, 28, admitted: “There are some people at the centre that want to travel to the UK. If they don’t like it here, they tear up their ID card and leave for France.
“They can’t take a boat from Belgium because the police and army are everywhere and are very strict.”