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Calais: A journey in basic healthcare[edit | edit source]

The port town of Calais in Northern France represents the final point of the journey in a migrants struggle to gain entry into the United Kingdom. Much has already been documented about the plight of those stuck in this hellish purgatory, of the violence, the poverty and the invisible situation punctuated only by media scare stories of ‘waves, hordes’ of scrougers and bogus asylum seekers.

However my story is about the less exposed side of the struggle, of the health and well being of these desperate people. I spent my time at the No Borders camp at the port and the jungle, visiting and bringing minimal relief in the form of First Aid.

My first encounter of the migrant health care system was a hurried car journey to the Eritrean squat in the Ferry Port. A team of medics gathered together having heard a scare that the squat was being raided, but after three or four stop and searches by the CRS we decided that we would be more useful visiting the Salaam food distribution point and helping there. The police took our documents and we milled around the entrance to a warehouse talking to the arriving migrants who had come from the car parks. They smiled and answered “alykum salaam” and gave us small pink flowers picked off the roadside during the walk.

Salaam were handing out food in an orderly fashion to the 300 or so migrants who had turned up, they were mostly Afghan in origin and all males, some as young as seven. We decided to set up a mobile First Aid clinic out of the back of our car, we got our gear out and set up to deal with minor injurys, blisters and dehydration. However we received far more patients than expected, with various ailments ranging from open sores, broken elbows, rotting teeth and unexplained itching. This became apparant that it was not a few cases; everyone was pointing to their arms and scratching. It dawned on us that almost every migrant was suffering from Impetigo and Scabies.

We went back to camp and spent about an hour disinfecting all our gear and ourselves. We discussed what we had seen and agreed that scabies and impetigo was the problem. After a quick skill-share and explanation of what each condition constituted and its effects to us the decision was made to go and visit the PASS clinic in town to ask the central point of migrant health care what they thought of our involvement and what we could do to help.

The next day we headed into town and chatted to the nurse and doctor who ran the PASS clinic. The term clinic is a bit misleading, it appeared to be the guardhouse where the rubbish used to be kept that had been cleared out into two usable rooms, one of which was a shower. Up to one hundred migrants a day use the facility since they have trouble accessing the hospital two hundred yards up the road. The doctor deals with an overwhelming amount of problems compounded by the fact that many conditions could be kept at bay by simple hygene, for this end they have a shower which migrants take a number to have a five minute slot at cleanliness. She told us that scabies and impetigo was rampant, she told us some basic info about the ailments and gave us the go-ahead to carry on performing First Aid.

We went back that night with a plan to help. A mini clinic was set up on the tarmac, a washing facility for each patient and a map to send people down to the PASS clinic when we couldn’t deal with the ailment. More people came to us and we saw more problems including a man with a possibly gangrenous finger.

Over the next few days we realised exactly how terrible the conditions were for these people. We learned that if migrants went to hospital with complaints of rotting teeth or open sores they were regularly fobbed off with courses of paracetamol, on prescription! We learned that the amount of showers (for migrants) in Calais numbered less than fifteen. We learnt that prior to this people had bathed in the water flowing from the back of a chemical plant. That there was only one running water tap in the whole of the Pashtun Jungle.

We began handing out soap to migrants, to encourage and educate them that impetigo could be combated with hygene. But it felt pretty useless, standing amongst people who had travelled thousands of miles in unimaginable conditions only for us to hand out half a bar of soap. We were told that if we wanted to help other migrants that we should do First Aid at the African squats, where people routinely suffer broken bones and beatings from security guards whilst attempting to chain themselves under lorrys and scramble under security fences.

The mental health of migrants was not much better. Although I am no psycology expert I was worried by the sight of self inflicted injury’s, I was worried by PTSD that had reached such levels that people no longer registered physical pain, I was worried by fifteen year old boys who had given up attempting to cross and instead smoked weed and drank whiskey trying to forget their familys in other parts of the world. I listened to many terrible stories and held many shaking hands whilst they cried their trials and nightmares of war and poverty. They suffer in many ways.

This is not a comprehensive report of migrant health care but rather a personal reflection on my experiences. Some of my ‘facts’ may be wrong, but that is how they presented themselves to me. I hope that through many stories like these we can begin to educate ourselves about the problem and begin to organise and create strategies.

Notes[edit | edit source]

Written by a street medic from No Border Wales

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