Peter, a young doctor working in A&E in Leeds and volunteering here for a week, and Crue, a young Muslim of Indian heritage who comes from Birmingham and is also a volunteer, are outside my hotel in the centre of Calais at 9.00am ready to drive the ten miles to the camp.
We pass many young male migrants walking, heads bowed in defeat, on the road to the camp. They are Syrian and Afghan refugees who have unsuccessfully attempted for the umpteenth time to board trucks bound for UK and are now returning the ten miles on foot to the camp having been assaulted by the police.
They present in the “clinic” a few hours later with injuries sustained by falling off lorries, being beaten by the police, or with tear gas inhalation which induces chronic coughs, or bruises to the chest where they have been hit by rubber bullets fired at them to discourage them from taking the illegal route to Britain.
It is a daily ritual for so many, leaving the camp in the evening on foot to attempt to get to UK and then returning in the early morning having once again been defeated.
We arrive at the camp waved through by three gendarmes at the entrance. We drive slowly along the track lined with small businesses that have sprung up on either side run by the migrants. Among them a hairdresser, a small shopkeeper selling fresh vegetables and the small Kabul restaurant run by Afghan refugees. There we later have a delicious lunch of curried chicken, spinach, rice and nan bread washed down by dense sweet tea.
Peter, the doctor, nurse Mary and Zoe – a prison nurse from Leicester – have been working out of one of three small caravans and I am assigned to another to be accompanied by Mustapha my Afghan interpreter.
My all male patients from Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan and Eritrea drift in with a variety of complaints including those minor injuries to hands, arms and legs from a night trying to leave France. But there is also a 16-year-old young man from Iraq with a severe anaemia from and unknown cause. He clearly needs to be referred for investigation and an urgent blood transfusion. We take him to the French clinic run by Medecins du Monde on the edge of the camp from where, we are told, he will attend the hospital in Calais.
It’s a long day seeing perhaps 35 patients with my excellent interpreter Mustapha and providing first aid and dispensing the simplest of remedies (no antibiotics are available).
Am I wasting my time? At least we are dispensing “care” as one human to another and we are listening – listening to ghastly stories of what has been left behind in Syria: wives and children on the one hand, total destruction on the other and extraordinary journeys through Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Germany, and finally France.
Perhaps it is that solidarity with fellow humans that is the most important ingredient of our work.