Today I’ll be writing about living conditions.
After yesterday’s post about working conditions, some people asked me to (re)describe the living conditions. I wrote about these before:
“The youngest ones have it the hardest here, I think. They’re not that experienced in self-care or in basic survival skills, for that matter (although I can imagine you’ll get up to speed pretty quickly). We’ve seen kids with rotten teeth because they didn’t see the use of brushing their teeth whilst fleeing, nappy rash and jockage because of bad health skills. […] Infections like [scabies] are untreatable for us: It’ll require the patient to get naked, slather Permethrin everywhere for 24 hours and 80*c wash all his belongings. That’s not going to happen in a camp like this, so it’s just antihistamine for the itch, and that’s all that we can do. “
There are several issues that the problems harder to manage. The temporality of their lodgings makes for terrible housing: It’s mainly tents, some having an extra layer of tarp over.
As you can see on the photo above, everything is wet and muddy, with no infrastructure in place. There’s no electricity in the camps, let alone lights; Some have dixies placed, so thankfully, diseases like diphtheria haven’t made an appearance (yet). It used to be so that even the Dunkirk camp, at its height a few months ago, used to house 1200 people with no water! People would be forced to drink water from the stream next to the camp if they needed water outside the distro hours.
It’s evident that this causes a plethora of gastrointestinal issues. Drinking dirty water is positively linked to (among others):
- Gastrointestinal Problems
- Intestinal or Stomach Cramping, Aches and Pains
Often found contaminants in ‘open’ water are:
-E. coli Bacteria, Coliform Bacteria, Nitrates, Lead, Fluoride, Arsenic, Radium, Radon, Pharmaceuticals, Herbicides, Pesticides, Chemicals, Fecal Matter, Microbial Pathogens, Parasites, Viruses, Petrochemicals
After recent clearings of the camp in Dunkirk, there has been a period where there was no fresh water at all. For us, this meant an immediate surge in gastrointestinal problems: diarrhoea as the first one to show. People often forget how dangerous diarrhoea is: Every year, 525.000 children die globally of diarrhoeal disease! Diarrhoea can last several days and can leave the body without the water and salts that are necessary for survival. If left unchecked, people (mainly kids) weaken and die. Sick would bathe and drink at the only water source available to them and thus end up even sicker. For us, as a medical NGO, it’s impossible to fight the symptoms without treating the causes: It’s just no use at all. You have to though: otherwise, you’ll end up with dead kids, and it’s a vast and preventable source of pain and a drain of resources.
As most of the camps are in remote/industrial areas, the (bio)chemical contaminants aren’t really that far-fetched. We see many people with diarrhoea or dehydration, both two absolute killers in situations like these. Not only because of moisture loss, but also because of vitamin deficiency (And their diet isn’t usually too good to begin with) and restrictions on food intake. You can imagine that it’s rather hard to eat two day-old-bread when you’ve got terrible cramps, but sometimes it’s all there is.
I cannot stress the importance of NGOs like RCK (Refugee Community Kitchen) enough. These remarkable people cook up 1500 meals a day for all the refugees and volunteers in the area. 1500 meals a day! And they also manage to make it nice and healthy, too. Today we had pasta with a lentil-based sauce with broad beans and a salad. These kinds of solid meals make it so that at least nobody goes hungry.
Sadly, the situation inside the city has worsened. There’s a distribution of food, tents, and blankets every night in the town somewhere. This distro is mainly aimed at the new arrivals who, in general, don’t even have a tarp to lay under, let alone a sleeping bag. Imagine you’ve just arrived in Calais, after walking for 30 hours, arrive at one of the camps, and have to walk another hour to get something dry to sleep under. And on the way there, a car stops, six people, get out and start hitting you at the side of the road and leave you there beaten. This happens really very often; just today I treated two young men, new arrivals, who were hit with pieces of steel rebar and left in the mud after. The behaviour of some Calaisiens is absolutely abhorrent and condemnable. We had dixies shot at and with bullet holes in them, last year a guy thrown off the roof of a supermarket he fled to after being chased by men with dogs and bottles thrown from passing cars. Our car’s been broken into; volunteers kicked out of bars and nails thrown in the driveway of the warehouse.
It’s worth to remember that Calais is a very right-wing city: 52.9% voted the right-wing populist and nationalist party Front National (nowadays Rassemblement National) who are very evident in the streets, even doing marches (!). I won’t say that a more progressive city would’ve treated the problems here differently, but it sure doesn’t help. The demonization of the refugees only serves to cause a deeper rift between the two camps, and nothing good will come of it.