Kent

Channel migrants: Man 'drowns trying to swim to UK'

Zeebrugge windfarm Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The man's body was found at a wind farm off the coast of Zeebrugge in Belgium

An Iraqi migrant has died while trying to swim to England, Belgian authorities have said.

The man, believed to be in his 40s, was found dead at a wind farm off the coast of Belgium near Zeebrugge.

West Flanders' governor Carl Decaluwé said the man was found wearing an improvised buoyancy aid made of plastic water bottles and wearing one flipper.

He said the man, who police identified using fingerprints, is believed to have been refused asylum in Germany.

"We think he was going to try to swim to the UK," he said. "I think he was starting in France."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Carl Decaluwé, the governor of West Flanders, said it was "very sad"

He said the man, who was found on Friday, was "covered in fish nets with plastic bottles, I think to make it more easy to swim for him".

"He had big swim flippers to have more speed, but he only had one, maybe the other was in the water, I don't know."

"It makes me very sad. If you see in the 21st Century that people try to swim from France to the UK, that's crazy."

It is unclear if the body is that of a man seen by a sailor 12 nautical miles off the coast of Dunkirk, France, on 18 August, Mr Decaluwé said.

The sailor told French authorities that he had attempted and failed to lift the man on to his boat at about 15:00 BST.

Mr Decaluwé said: "It is the first time we have found in our waters a dead migrant.

"I am convinced a lot of people died already, but they never find the bodies."

He said that the British, Belgian and French coastguard were working closely together, but added: "You never can close the net. The coast is so long."

West Flanders police said that a case had been opened with the Bruges prosecutor.

The Home Office said: "This is a tragic incident and our thoughts are with the individual involved and their family and friends.

"Anyone seeking to swim across the Channel or to cross this dangerous stretch of water in a small boat is taking a huge risk."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A woman went missing overboard from a boat carrying 19 migrants earlier this month

More than 970 people, including at least 80 children, have crossed the Channel in small boats this year, with more than 200 in August - the highest number of any month since the home secretary declared a "major incident" in December.

On 10 August, a search was called off for a woman who was believed to have fallen from a small boat crossing the Channel.

The Home Office said 19 others on the boat, who were from Iran and Iraq, had been rescued and passed to immigration officials.

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

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