The death of a migrant, who tried to swim to England from the Continent, with only a life jacket made of plastic bottles, has shocked the Roman Catholic pastor who tries to help migrants and refugees in the port of Zeebrugge. Fernand Maréchal advises them not to make the journey, but says many of them tell him they have no choice: “it’s England or die”
Pastor Fernand Maréchal has been in shock ever since he heard the news that the body of an Iraqi man had been recovered from the seas near the Zeebrugge windfarm. Pastor Maréchal has been trying to care for refugees for many years and knows them well.
“I feared a fatality like this would happen one day on the North Sea. As far as I know it’s the first time it happens: a man has died at sea in tragic circumstances.”
The Iraqi was wearing a self-made life jacket and a diver’s fin. Pastor Maréchal believes it’s the first time that anybody tries to reach the shores of the UK from Belgium kitted out like this. He has heard migrants making plans to purchase a small boat and venture on this journey, but at every occasion he advised against it: “The English Channel is dangerous: it’s like a motorway.”
Last week a physician working for Doctors of the World came to Zeebrugge to explain to migrants why they shouldn’t use small boats on this journey. Even after the recent death Pastor Maréchal has heard of migrants still willing to take the risk, but not swim: “That is sheer madness” they now say.
The pastor believes the number of migrants willing to make the journey has fallen sharply: “They come in small groups because checks at Zeebrugge are stricter. Most try to climb on board a lorry inland somewhere in order to get into a North Sea port in this way.”