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Calais Migrant Camp Doctor Treated Unaccompanied Minors, Found 'Appalling Conditions'


This past week, French authorities finally closed the Jungle. This was a migrant camp in Calais, France, and the last stopping point for migrants and refugees before they tried to enter the United Kingdom, often hiding in trucks or containers bound for Britain. Now those refugees are being sent to centers across France to process them for asylum or deportation. There are roughly 1,600 unaccompanied minors and children that need to be relocated. Dr. Nick Maurice is a retired physician from Wiltshire in the U.K. He has spent time in that camp, the Jungle, and has met some of these children. He joins us now from the studios of the BBC.

Thank you so much for being with us.

NICK MAURICE: It's a great pleasure.

MARTIN: I understand you were at the camp a little under a month ago. What was it like?

MAURICE: I have to say it was a desperate, desperate situation - people living in just appalling conditions, maybe be under a piece of plastic with four poles stuck in the ground - no electricity, Portaloos in the most awful condition and so on. And, you know, we had to keep reminding ourselves that these are people who have fled the most terrible conditions in their countries of origin, have undertaken extraordinarily perilous journeys to get to Calais in the first place and find themselves living in these appalling conditions in that camp.

MARTIN: So was it, then, a good thing that this camp has been closed down, if the conditions were so horrific?

MAURICE: No, it was not a good thing because there was a sense of community in the camp. And many people had been there for as long as a year, attempting to get to the U.K. almost on a daily basis. But now they have been dispersed, as it were, to these 160 so-called CAOs, centres d'accueil et d'orientation - centers of welcome and orientation - dotted all over France. And I have no doubt that many of them will drift back to the north of France in order to continue their attempts to get to the U.K.

MARTIN: It's my understanding that the U.K. has decided to allow some of the children to make their way to the U.K. So far, 300 of these children have been allowed in. And a Home Office spokesman told NPR that they do intend to accept several hundred more who qualify. Do you understand what criteria they use? Why take one child and not another?

MAURICE: I don't. I don't understand that, and I'm not even sure that the Home Office understands that, frankly. Quite what the process is that they will go through, I really don't know.

MARTIN: You're a doctor. What are the health conditions of some of the people, patients, you were tending to in the camp?

MAURICE: The sorts of things that I was seeing were largely minor injuries sustained from falling off the backs of trucks. I saw a number of people with injuries, really, as a result of having walked from the south of Italy to Calais over the Alps. I saw people, for example, with swollen knees, people with upper respiratory infections and that kind of thing. I saw very few, frankly, serious conditions. And those that I did see, I was able to pass on to Medecins Sans Frontieres or to the hospital in Calais if I felt that they needed urgent treatment.

MARTIN: I imagine you heard a lot of stories from those refugees. Is there one that stays with you?

MAURICE: There is one in particular. A boy age 12 - his voice hadn't broken - called Ahmed, he came into my caravan. And through an interpreter, I questioned Ahmed about his story.

I said, Ahmed, why did you come to Calais? He said, my father came to Calais and managed to climb onto a truck and got to London. He worked in London for four years, then the police caught him. They deported him back to Afghanistan. The moment he arrived in Afghanistan, the Taliban shot and killed him. My uncle came and said it was not safe for me to remain in Afghanistan. He sold some land. He took me to the border with Iran. He handed me over to some men who brought me to Calais.

Ahmed, who have you left behind in Afghanistan? I've left my mother and my three sisters.

Do you ever cry? No, my crying has stopped.

Ahmed, age 12, was telling me this story.

MARTIN: Dr. Nick Maurice is a retired physician who was working at the Calais migrant camp. It's now been dismantled in France.

Dr. Maurice, thanks so much for your time.

MAURICE: It's a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.