Jess Hurd


Calais: “Shoot me or put me in your trunk”


France is dog life, England good life, graffiti in the Calais migrants camp known as the jungle. France. © Jess Hurd/

France is dog life, England good life, graffiti in the Calais migrants camp known as the jungle. France.
© Jess Hurd/

Aleppo to Calais: A Syrian Doctor’s Journey

The blue lights of CRS police trucks flashed in the distance, at every access point into the Eurotunnel Terminal in Calais and at strategic positions along the miles of security fencing. Another night of cat and mouse between the migrants and police was coming to an end. The migrants try to breach the fences, stowing away on trucks and trains, the CRS in full riot gear push them back with batons and CS gas.

It was just past one in the morning as people, exhausted and dejected, began the two-hour walk back to the Jungle refugee camp. A Syrian refugee walked over and began talking to me. He was a doctor from Aleppo.

“You can do one of two things,” he said. “Shoot me or put me in your trunk”.

Doctors are being specifically targeted in the Syrian conflict and executed for treating the sick. Four months ago, after a bomb attack, he left his family and his home in Aleppo with £5000 in his pockets. He was robbed by gangs in Serbia and had since lost everything to traffickers.

He showed me a photograph on his phone of his children. I asked their names, very quickly changing the inquiry to their ages. I knew that he could not or would not want to give their names because of the fear of targeting. The fear is very real. Last year one health worker was killed every day in Syria, according to a report for Physicians for Human Rights. Hospitals get bombed almost daily according to Doctors Without Borders. This violation of medical neutrality is a war crime and breaches the Geneva Conventions or laws of war.

The doctor was wearing a cloth to cover his face. The more I gained his trust the more the cloth slipped to reveal his sad and steely eyes, which creased only occasionally when a joke was shared. This was his fourth night attempting to get to the UK.

He said Syrians were peaceful people, illustrated by the quarter of the entire population who were currently displaced. He talked of Gulliver’s Travels and the journey that he has made from the oldest civilisation on Earth. He said he did not deserve this, his people did not deserve to be turned away, even from Arab countries. He had sought asylum in Canada, America and the UK. His asylum claim was rejected, despite Britain’s shortage of doctors.

Last year the UK government accepted only 500 refugees from the Syrian conflict, 1.5 percent of the number accepted by Germany.

“What would you do in our position?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Probably exactly the same as you guys, try and seek safety for myself and my family in another country, by whatever means”.

“And you think you would cope?” he said stingingly.

The doctor told me there are some 200 Syrians in the Jungle refugee camp, the total population being somewhere between 3000 to 5000 people. Over the years the refugee camps have been pushed out beyond the city limits of Calais, each previous camp demolished with bulldozers and burned to the ground. This means the journey to try and jump the Eurostar trains is a four-hour round trip.

Politicians do not rank highly in the migrants esteem, nor do journalists. The doctor asked if the French Government could provide transport back to the camp. He was exhausted, exhausted with their treatment in France.

“France treat us like dogs” says the graffiti adorning one wall of the bridge flyover carrying the fortified road to the ferry port, that is the entrance to the camp.

The Jungle is a squalid, semi-permanent shanty town sprawling over the sand dunes that are constantly whipped by the Channel winds. It is rife with TB and scabies. Food is provided once a day and there is not enough food to go round. Most days some people go hungry.

“For a shower you have to have a ticket,” said the doctor. “You have to queue and run or they will be gone. We are a proud people. We have come from homes. Why are they making us live like this?”

The doctor talked about the Second World War, when Syria gave refuge from the Nazis to Greek and other European migrants.

“They were not put in camps,” he said shaking his head. “They were invited into our homes. We will never forget”.

The conversation had begun with one of the Syrians telling me to get lost and that the media were part of the problem. The group were all professional people, doctors, an interpreter, a decorator and a computer engineer. We talked about politicians and racist immigration policies. I have never felt so completely powerless, answering the same questions from utterly desperate people who were unable to comprehend why Britain would not help them.

Our conversation ended with a final plea from the doctor. “Can you help me?”

“I’m not going to shoot you,” I said.

He laughed for the first time.

© Jess Hurd

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