Zeebrugge: migrants at Christmas

Father Maréchal, a parish priest in Zeebrugge, is one of the people who has witnessed one of the year's big news stories at close quarters: the relentless attempts of transit migrants attempting to get to the UK in search of a better life.

For several years now the seventy-year-old has opened the doors of his church to refugees and migrants who come to the Flemish port of Zeebrugge in the hope of making it to the UK.  Together with volunteers he dishes out meals, hands out clothes, sleeping bags and medical care.

Not everybody in the parish is happy with his efforts.  In 2016 the Human rights League awarded him their prize, but in Zeebrugge there have been protests.  His efforts meet with incomprehension.

Locals claim the migrants stage break-ins, plunder fridges and make people fearful.  Father Maréchal insists it's his duty to help people in need: "Otherwise I would be negligent" he says.

Despite the fact that many people support him, others claim he's encouraging migrants to head for Zeebrugge: “As if the people would come here because I offer them a bowl of soup!  The aid I provide is designed to stop them from being a nuisance to other parishioners, but not everybody believes this is my motivation!"

The priest blames polarisation due to the general election in May.  “Some parties concentrate on the migrant issue to pick up votes" he notes.