Currently about 2,000 refugees are stranded in unofficial camps in Northern France. Men, women and young children from conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Sudan gather in Calais and Dunkirk with a dream of coming to the UK.
Rather than invest in dignified processing and humane solutions, the UK government spends huge amounts building fences and funding the French policing. People are forced to live outside, and then risk their lives travelling illegally in trucks and on boats.
In relation to medical support, we believe acute herbal medicine strategies have something specific to offer in this context. They occupy that gap between health and needing hospital treatment. As herbalists our job is part prevention, part first aid, part self-care support, part skilled triage and differential diagnosis. Our medicines make a difference.
Throughout last winter we spent one week each month, visiting the various camps, providing wound care, handing out cough syrups, chest rubs, bruise ointments, skin creams etc. When appropriate we referred onto other agencies or ferried people to hospital. On average, we would treat 300 refugees over a week. People tended to present with viral respiratory diseases; and minor wounds sustained from walking long distances, falling off moving trucks and being hit by French CRS (riot police).
Medicines were made and donated by individual herbalists or made at workshops as part of our Medicine Making Campaign (http://herbalistswithoutborders.co.uk/topic.php?pid=4)
In April and again in May 2020 , thanks to SHED funding and our relationship with a French organisation, we were able to return and distribute flu packs to refugees and offer herbal medicine support to long term volunteers .
The situation in Northern France presents the challenge of providing basic humanitarian needs – food, shelter, medicine, in a location that is outside of or unfamiliar to the remit of conventional aid providers and NGOs.
This may present an opportunity to forge new models for ways of being and doing in relation to solidarity, collaboration, and mutual aid.
The track record established by HWB.UK this winter, and subsequent Co-vid months, means there is an expectation amongst ourselves and others that we will keep going , show up in Northern France as a competent, reliable , professional agency who can fit into the wider ecology of provision , and continue to deliver on a regular basis.
Our challenge now is to build infrastructure and capacity so that we can do this is a way that is sustainable .