In the middle of the Jungle Camp, volunteers and residents bustle around three trailers filled with medical supplies and makeshift exam beds. “First Aid” is spray painted in red letters on the sides of the vans, marking a station where camp residents can consult health workers and receive basic medical care.
On a recent morning, roughly eight volunteers from the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland were staffing the station. Two migrants sat outdoors on folding chairs while volunteers treated their feet with herbal medicine. Doctors and migrants ducked in and out of the trailers for examinations, communicating through Mustafa Stanikzai, a translator from Afghanistan.
Many migrants arrive requiring foot care because they’ve walked large distances to reach Calais, often without socks or dry, properly fitting shoes, said Chris Gambatese, a 47-year-old volunteer originally from the U.S.
Rubber bullet injuries are also a problem among the 50 to 100 migrants who visit the first-aid station on a typical day, said Gambatese. Cell phone videos cited by media outlets earlier this year appear to show police using rubber bullets and tear gas inside the camp.
Volunteers also commonly treat scabies and chicken pox, said Andrew Crowe, a doctor from London. Hand and foot injuries are most common, he said, because migrants often climb fences and cling onto trucks bound for the U.K., hoping to cross the English Channel.
This situation confuses volunteers like Crowe.
“You’re already in France, a good European country. Why go to the U.K.?” he said. “They think the U.K. is like the promised land.”
Many migrants here report having relatives, friends or other contacts in Great Britain. Some describe reasons for reluctance to stay in France, including language barriers and political attitudes. Life in the camp is not always an encouragement, either. Seventy-five percent of the 870 men, women and children surveyed in February by the Refugee Rights Data Project said they had experienced police violence, including tear gas, physical violence, and verbal violence.
Volunteers staff the first-aid station every day. The trailers were set up six months ago to provide treatment on weekends, when the camp’s main clinic was closed, volunteers said. Now, the main clinic, originally built by Doctors Without Borders and run by Calais Regional Hospital, is open every day, said Guillaume Senechal, a spokesman for La Vie Active, one of the aid organizations working with refugees in Calais.
Crowe and Mark Murphy, both 27, decided to volunteer in the camp for a week after joining a Facebook group of more than 3,000 U.K.-based health professionals and support staff. Although Crowe and Murphy, who lives in Dublin, work as doctors at home, they aren’t licensed to practice medicine in France, so they provide only basic first-aid care.
Migrants visiting the station speak myriad languages, so they rely on Stanikzai to translate. The 26-year-old, who that day sported traditional Afghan clothing called perahan tunban and a black Patagonia vest, said he has lived in the camp for eight or nine months. He speaks Pashto, Farsi, English, Arabic, Urdu and Greek. He said he wanted to be a doctor, but had to stop his studies and flee to Europe after his father was killed.
“I was happy in my country,” said Stanikazi, who fears he will be targeted by violence if he returns to Afghanistan. His goal is to raise enough money to bring his family to the U.K. “I lost my everything… my father, my country.”
More images of the First Aid station.
— Sophia Bollag and Eunice Lee. Images by Eunice Lee