Corona Dunkerque & Grande-Synthe

„Never seen an inhumane situation like I saw yesterday“

Die belgische Ärztin Stephanie de Maesschalck reiste am 22. März 2020 nach Grande-Synthe bei Dunkerque, nachdem sie von einer katastrophalen Verschlechterung der Situation dort erfahren hatte.

Ihr Bericht, den wir mit ihrer freundlichen Genehmigung wiedergeben, macht die gravierenden indirekten Auswirkungen der Covid-19-Pandemie auf die Geflüchteten deutlich. Denn nachdem humanitäre Organisationen ihre Arbeit vor Ort eingestellt hatten, fehlt den rund 500 Menschen nun der Zugang zu medizinischer Hilfe und Nahrungsmitteln. Behördliche Maßnahmen zum Schutz vor der Seuche wiederum beschränkten sich, so beobachtete die Ärztin, auf plakatierte Verhaltenshinweise, deren Befolgung unter den gegebenen Bedingungen nicht möglich ist.

Im Mittelpunkt des Berichts stehen Gespräche mit Exilierten über ihre gesundheitliche Situation, in denen zweierlei sichtbar wird: Die Furcht vor der Möglichkeit, eventuell bereits am Corona-Virus erkrankt zu sein, und die Brutalität, mit der die inhumanen Lebensbedingungen unabhängig von der Pandemie auf die Gesundheit der Geflüchteten durchschlagen.

Hier der Bericht von Stephanie de Maesschalck, veröffentlicht auf Facebook am 24. März 2020 (im englischen Original):

I would like to comment on the matter of undocumented migrants at risk of acquiring and disseminating Covid-19 with a story of my experience yesterday in the camps of Dunkirk.

Since a couple of weeks, most of the volunteer organizations that usually offer support to the hundreds of undocumented migrants surviving in the camps of Dunkirk, have stopped visiting the camps under Covid-19 threat.
Most of the migrants in this area are living in the small woods of Puythouck (ironically officially called a „natural reserve“) and on the abandoned factory site of La Linière. Not only young male adults, but also families, children, unaccompanied adolescents. I have been visiting the camps on a monthly basis, together with a group ofvolunteers. We offer help based on the needs: clothes, tents, food. We try to offer some sanitary help: we bring some barber tools, wash hair, distribute sanitary packages.
We always bring our football table which is very popular.
Up until yesterday we never went there as doctors, nor offered medical help, because Médecins Du Monde and the FAST team were there to do this in an organized way. However, the last few weeks, we received more and more words from the camp that all organizations were leaving, including the medical teams. No help was provided any more. I contacted the FAST team as well as MDM, and indeed no medical consultations were offered anymore. The local polyclinique doesn’t have the capacity nor the intention to provide primary medical care to the very complex needs of so many living there.
Last week, we decided with some colleague-healthcare providers to start collecting medical supplies and were planning on visiting the camp to evaluate medical needs. However, on Friday, the borders between Belgium and France shut down. We were told that there would be many police control, both on Belgian and French side.
We doubted to go.
However, we kept receiving alarming messages from within the camp about needs of all kind, not only medical, but also e.g. food supplies dropped.
Many of the Kurdish people in the camp have some financial resources to buy food, but many of the other groups, like the Pakistani and the Afghan people, or many of the unaccompanied minors residing there, don’t.
So we decided to try and cross the border on Sunday.
That was yesterday.
We packed three cars with food and medical supplies, and took small roads to try and cross the border.
We were two GP’s and two nurses and one friend who accompanied us for logistic support.
When we arrived in the camp (without any police control on the way), it became immediately clear that tensions were rising because of so many unmet needs. After many months of frequent police raids, during which all properties were destroyed and taken away, including personal belongings, after many cold and extremely wet winter months, now this Covid-19 epidemic and all the consequences of help no longer being provided: it became very clear that this was once more a disaster.

All of our food was distributed in less than 10 minutes. Some 400-600 people immediately gathered around us, appearing from the bushes, from across the highway, from all sides. When they heard that we were healthcare providers, so many people tried to reach out to us with so many different medical questions.
Off course, there was the anxiety about the Covid-19 epidemic. Around the camp, posters were hung out on trees and containers with translated information on how to protect one selves from the virus.The local community has been providing a large container with water every morning. It is not drinkable, however most of the migrants living there drink from it.
We saw and heard some dozens of patients with respiratory complaints, some with, some without fever. All of them were trying to cover-up their mouths and noses with scarfs.
We got many questions for paracetamol and painkillers, or coughing sirup. When we asked if they had fever, many said „no corona! no corona!“.
Some were laughable about it, hiding their worry.
Besides this, we saw a huge amount of severe scabies infestations.
We saw a 10-weeks pregnant woman with pyelonefritis.
A man with a plaster cast for an ankle fracture after jumping from a building. The cast was too tight, causing problems with vascularization. He had been in the cast for over ten days.
A man who had two rusty nails in his foot after trying to break down a wooden pallet to burn it in the cooking fire. The foot was heavily infected, oedematous, red and warm.
A man with diarrhea since four mounths, and severe abdominal pains, who had lost a lot of weight.
Many asked us for vitamins.
A man who had been taking quetiapine for several years, now was without since a month. His friend told us about his increasingly „strange and worrying behavior“.
There were many burning wounds.
And this was all in just little two hours time.

We never got to really examine these people. We were outdoors, in the middle of the camp.
We could only listen. Sometimes take a closer look at a wound or scratch marks. Try to find translators who could help out. We wrote some referral lettres to the local very small hospital, hoping this would help them to get some adequate help. The local hospital is trying to help, but they can’t cope, let alone in the midst of a Covid-crisis.

I was used to visiting the camps. I knew the situation.

But I have never seen an inhumane situation like I saw yesterday, and a need so desperate.

Now the local newspapers are reporting that the government might gather all the refugees in closed camps by the end of the week.
What will the impact of this be on the Covid epidemic in this group? Will there be medical care offered? Will people receive diagnostic tests on Covid19? Will patients be put in isolation?

Nobody knows.

Most of the migrants in the camps on the coast of Northern France just want one thing: to cross the Channel as soon as possible. In good or bad health.

And while all of Europe is focussing on controlling the pandemic, these most vulnerable people are forgotten.

I would like to comment on the matter of undocumented migrants at risk of acquiring and disseminating Covid-19 with a story of my experience yesterday in the camps of Dunkirk.

Stephanie de Maesschalck, 23. März 2020