A few weeks ago my cousin – Dr Bryony Corbyn, a psychiatric doctor – visited the refugee camp at Calais and found out that there is not enough medical provision for the refugees there and none at all at the Dunkirk camp.
This means that there are over 7000 men, women and children who have little or no access to medical care.
Most of them are exhausted, malnourished and many have a wide range of medical problems.
Some are severely ill or injured.
All are deeply traumatised by the life they have fled from, the horror of their journey and the desperate conditions they now survive in.
Over the next few days I could not stop thinking about these people and their lack of basic medical aid so I decided to join my cousin and her family on their next trip to the Calais camp.
We travelled to Calais on the Eurotunnel and drove past several enormous barbed wire fences to a huge warehouse where many of the donations for the refugees are sorted.
There my cousin and I, along with another doctor and four final year medical students, assembled a make-shift set of medical kits from shelves filled with a random selection of supplies.
We packed everything into large rucksacks and drove to the camp at Dunkirk. In sleeting rain and driving winds. We put on thermals, waterproofs, wellies, high-visibility vests and walked into the camp.
A sea of mud, ankle deep, hundreds of tents being buffeted by the strong winds – many destroyed and lying in the foul smelling mire.
Grim-faced men, crying toddlers, everything wet and sodden. In tents, hunkered down between trees, desperate people seeking shelter from the howling wind and freezing rain.
We looked around – so many tents, where to begin?
A volunteer from Lancaster asked us to go to the tents with babies and young children first. So I crawled inside filthy, damp tents to examine a tiny coughing baby, a sobbing 3 year-old little girl who had been crying in pain for 2 days, a 15 month-old with profuse diarrhoea, a young mother with severe toothache, and a man with abdominal pain lying huddled under grubby blankets.
As we went around the camp, sliding in the mud, trying to protect our medical kits from the rain, we were stopped wherever we went by people asking us to examine their throats, teeth, eyes or chests.
So we stood there, in the mud and the rain and we did our best to assess and treat.
Called out to passers-by to help with translating.
Handed out paracetamol, Ibuprofen, rehydration sachets, Strepsils, dressings to be applied to wounds and whatever else could be done.
Smiles and thanks from everyone despite the appalling conditions.
Overnight a devastating fire broke out in the Calais camp – started by a candle. Severe burns, a badly injured man had to be carried by other refugees to an ambulance outside the camp. Many tents destroyed, 250 people including several families with small children and babies rendered completely homeless in the pouring rain.
On Monday we worked in the Calais camp called “The Jungle”.
Tents as far as the eye could see, overflowing portable toilets, burst water pipes creating muddy lakes, cooking smells mixed with the stench of waste and sewage.
We went to the camp medical centre – three small caravans stocked with limited medical supplies. Surrounding these caravans was ankle-deep water, mud and waste, that the fast-growing queue of refugees had to stand in while they waited to be seen.
Over the next hours our skills and experience were stretched to their limits.
Trying to assess and treat so many ill people with such limited facilities.
No antibiotics, no effective medication to treat the serious infections and illnesses that we saw, no translator other than fellow refugees who spoke broken English, no access to running water.
It was the hardest, most challenging experience of my life.
Leaving the camp to catch our train home was almost harder still, we just could not get to the end of the ever growing queue of sick people desperate to see a doctor.
I could not do enough.
If you would like to help then volunteers or donations are always very welcome and if you want to find out more then have a look at this Facebook group.
If you are a doctor, nurse, midwife, dentist, paramedic or other healthcare professional and would like to volunteer then please join the Facebook group Refugee Support First Aid & Care Team who are the main organisers of volunteer medical aid at the camps.
If you would like to donate or raise money then please see below a list of small volunteer groups and larger charities that are supporting the refugees. The first one in the list is the volunteer medical care group that I was linked with, but any money donated to any of them will make a difference.
Donations sent here go towards supporting a voluntary team of UK-based doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other health professionals and support staff who provide essential first aid and care to the refugees living both in the ‘Jungle’ and smaller camps in Calais.
Money raised will be used to replenish medical supplies, maintain the medical facilities and cover vital costs to help sustain this service.
The Caravans for Calais Project has been set up to send over mobile support units including caravans and trailer tents to refugee camps. These can be used for medical centres, treatment points, nurse stations antenatal units, accommodation for refugees and whatever else arises that a need is identified for. Calais medics operate out of three of their caravans in the Jungle.
The Ashram Kitchen provides a steady supply of hot, nutritious meals to hundreds of people living in the jungle. On average each meal costs just 50p to produce. With 600 meals a day provided by dedicated volunteers the demand for funds, support and materials is constant and they are only able to keep up thanks to donations. If you are able to volunteer or donate please contact Clare.
Us humans: If you are looking for a way to help those caught up in this crisis, you can buy Christmas gift cards, made by independent designers living in London. Each card will help purchase a high-quality winter essential for a person in need.
All money donated to Socks For Refugees is spent on thick, warm, brand new socks. They have sent almost 6,000 to Calais and about the same amount to Greece. For preventative reasons they are very important at Calais as without clean socks to help keep feet warm and dry the refugees would really struggle.
Dedicated doctors from the UK who were working in Calais and Dunkirk and are now set up outside the Moria registration camp in Lesvos, Greece. Their go-funding page was set up about recently. This is their facebook page.
This article was originally featured on Women’s Views on News.