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Dr Nick has been back to Calais working as a doctor in the migrant camp: will it be there next time?

GraffittiGraffittiSo here we are again three months after my last visit working as a doctor in the Calais camp. But, more importantly, it is now seven years since refugees began arriving in Northern France in their attempts to get to UK.

What has changed since then?  The numbers have clearly increased.  While it is impossible to undertake an accurate census, the estimates vary between eight and ten thousand migrants in the camp - and among this number there are an estimated 800 unaccompanied children from Afghanistan, Syria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan.  About 60 people are arriving daily and a few are, of course, successful in their daily attempts to board trucks to get to the UK.

Let’s remember that South Sudan is the newest country in the world:  just five years since it was created it is overwhelmed by corruption and conflict which has led to over one million people fleeing the country.  Most of them are now living in neighbouring Uganda, a country, unlike ours, which can ill afford to house and feed these huge numbers.  Of course the same can be said of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey or Greece - the neighbouring countries to conflict in the Middle East and especially in Syria.

During this visit, I continue to see up to 65 boys and men aged between 12 and 45 every day.  The women and some of the children are cared for separately.

Cigarette BurnsCigarette BurnsSome of the unaccompanied children come to see me at my 'surgery'.  One such is Sayed aged 14 from Afghanistan who came in today with a sore throat, cough and temperature.  During my examination I notice multiple cigarette burns up his left arm.  “Who did that to you?” I ask, expecting the usual answer when I question scars on the body: “Taliban!” or “The Police, here in France!"

Slight laughter. “I did it!”  “While you were in Afghanistan?” I ask.  “No here in the jungle”, comes the reply.

There is no doubt that this is the tip of a mental health iceberg.  Mental health problems are caused by the conflicts that led them to flee everything familiar and loved in their own countries, the frightful journeys undertaken, often witnessing the deaths of fellow travellers on the boats crossing the Mediterranean, periods of imprisonment in Libya, Greece or Italy and the poverty of demonstrable compassion and welcome by Governments in Europe - and in particular on either side of the Channel.

What will be the long-term implications of this major mental health epidemic and its impact not just on the individuals, but also on the societies and communities in which they will finally live?

Homes in The JungleHomes in The JungleNow all the talk amongst the volunteers here is about the apparent decision taken by the French Government to demolish the camp in four weeks time (although a French journalist tells me it will be on October 1!) and the distribution of migrants to ‘Centres d’Acceuil et Orientation’ (CAOs) in different parts of France.

Already opportunities are being given to migrants who agree to settle in France to have their finger prints taken and then board a bus to transport them to the CAOs.  One change comes in answers to my question about how people see the future.  Since I was here three months ago, many more (maybe 20 per cent) say they want to remain in France. This seems largely out of desperation when they fail to get to UK on their nightly visits to the port.

Indeed, I conducted two interviews with teenage boys from Eritrea, who had respiratory problems, in French.  They have learned it in the camp at the Jungle Books School in preparation for being sent to a location in France.

Bathroom for residents in The JungleBathroom for residents in The JungleFrançois Hollande, who visited Calais on Monday, says he wants help from the British. The vast majority of the volunteers working in the camp are from Britain. We are helping.  It is now our duty to persuade the British Government that “more must be done!” We are working on that.

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  • Marlborough-2013-04-18 St Peters
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  • Town-Hall-2011-05-03 08-
  • Silbury-Sunset---10-06-08-----07