I have just returned from volunteering as a doctor in the Calais ‘Jungle’. This is my attempt to give a voice to the refugees suffering brutal violence at the hands of the French police there.
This weekend in Calais we met a young Afghan man whilst helping in the first aid caravans. He was 21 years old. A week or so ago he had been attempting to climb onto a truck bound for England. Together with a group of friends he was spotted by the French police, who chased after them. He was placed in handcuffs and pushed face down in the dirt.
At this point his story is anything but unique in the Calais jungle. Many of the residents have been making nightly trips attempting to board trains and lorries heading for England. Fierce border crossing security has made this a dangerous and near impossible task. And yet it seems the lure of reaching the U.K. drives many to keep trying for months, despite the dangers and difficulties of this task. Some give up hope and head elsewhere in Europe, but many have family in England and have a far greater chance of a successful asylum claim if only they can make it across the channel.
At this point in the story the man described how totally defenceless – with handcuffs tight behind his back and face down in the mud – he was, being beaten close to death by the French police. He suffered widespread internal bleeding, a severe kidney injury and multiple soft tissue injuries. He was struck on the side of his head with a metal baton and has been unable to hear in his left ear since the assault. He now cannot walk without a crutch.
He returned to the jungle today after he begged the doctor to let him leave the hospital for the day so he could come back to the jungle to see his friends. He felt alone, isolated, and afraid in hospital, unable to understand what was going on and what was being said to him. He is to return to the hospital tomorrow, for further tests and treatment. He doesn’t know what this will involve and does not know if he will regain hearing in his ear.
The sad reality is that this is not a unique incident. Everyday the medics working in the first aid caravans see a steady flow of refugees with often less severe but equally brutally inflicted injuries.
Unfortunately there seems to be no mechanism for the refugees to report these incidents of violence and assaults. They are deemed to be present illegally and as such their basic human rights seem to be violated freely and without reproach.
To see these things happening in France is completely shocking and dismaying. There appears to be no easy or quick fix for the evolving humanitarian crisis in Calais. However, to tolerate this level of violence against refugees in Calais is to be complicit in the dehumanisation of a group of people in desperate need of help and assistance. Surely that cannot be the answer.
Written by: Dr Angus de Wilton