After getting in touch with The Foot Project earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to join them running clinics in 'The Jungle' refugee camp in Calais, for four days over the August bank holiday weekend.

As the year has gone on, media coverage of the migrant situation in general and 'The Jungle' has gradually disappeared. Part of the camp was bulldozed, leading many to think that the camp was no longer there. In reality, the camp is growing by the day, with almost 10,000 inhabitants squeezed into a smaller space than ever. 

I got onto the coach in Bristol and then on to the ferry at Dover, with little idea of what to expect ahead. I had recently read Patrick Kingsley's 'The New Odyssey' which had given me a better idea of the hell that people have to endure to leave their homes and flee across the Mediterranean on expensive, overcrowded boats controlled by smugglers, but still had almost no idea what I would find in 'The Jungle'. 

On the first day we picked up a car pass from the distribution centre and headed onto the camp - the police stopped us, checked our documents and the contents of the car and were happy to let us through. This was apparently the easiest it had ever been to get onto the site. 

The first aid area was a triangle made up of 3 caravans. As we arrived, there was already a queue of people waiting to be seen. On this trip there were more volunteer doctors (mostly medical students) than there had been previously, so we ended up working outside the caravans, setting up on a large concrete block. 

On the first day, the majority of what we saw was ankle sprains - a lot of which had come from playing football on the sandy pitch next to the camp! At first we thought this was a bit strange, having walked hundreds or thousands of miles and then spraining your ankle playing football - but many of the refugees have been stuck here for months, and once you're in 'The Jungle', there is very little to do. 

After the first ten minutes or so of feeling completely overwhelmed, I settled into a rhythm - helping those that I could and directing others towards the doctors. It seemed that even with the warmer, dryer weather almost all of those coming in were complaining of a cough or sore throat. Taking any kind of history was a challenge, but with the support of a couple of the migrants who worked as interpreters around the first aid area every day, we usually worked it out. 

I was completely blown away by how friendly and seemingly positive most people had managed to stay, despite the unrelenting adversity that they have faced and are facing. A few who spoke English shared some of their story with me, which was heartbreaking, but others preferred to joke and laugh. I had no idea of what the atmosphere would be like in the camp, but I felt completely comfortable and certainly at no point whatsoever felt threatened.  

We returned on the second day to find the police in a less 'easy going' mood than before. They checked our passports as usual, but decided not to let us on the site in the car. As a result, we had to be dropped off outside the perimeter, walking across the dunes and into the camp from the side. The police simply don't want anybody there to help and make the situation more comfortable for the refugees. 

After a flurry of ankle sprains on the first day, the second day was filled with various knee injuries. Unfortunately it became apparent that most of the injuries were traumatic, caused by being hit from the side with metal bars or clubs. While examining one Eritrean man, we realised that he had no medial collateral ligament at all in his knee, not a recent injury, but meant that his knee was able to bend sideways - I think we were more surprised by it than he was! 

Leaving 'The Jungle' was a very strange feeling. Knowing that the camp is still there, getting bigger and bigger, more and more cramped, while we just headed off home left me feeling quite empty. Before we had even got home though, we were already planning the next trip and will be returning in October. The weather will be getting colder and wetter by then, so the need will be even greater. We will be focussing on taking out shoes and socks as well as our usual medical supplies, in particular to help the women and children in the camp. 

Thank you so much to everybody who has donated and supported the cause - without you it wouldn't be possible.


02/09/2016 11:58am

It was a pleasure to work with you Jack.. See you in October!

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