A Dark day for Europe: EU reaches agreement to send Refugees back to Turkey despite legal Concerns
The deal has been heavily criticised by human rights organisationshttp://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/eu-turkey-refugee-deal-what-is-it-erdogan-a6939156.html
'The Camps in Europe are the most appalling I've seen'
Xand van Tulleken at the refugee camp at Calais. Photograph: Tammy Hale/BBC/Little Gem Media/Vito D'ettorre
In January, I worked in a clinic for migrants in France. Bear in mind that I have volunteered as a doctor in Darfur, among the ongoing genocide, in both 2005 and 2010; in Myanmar after the cyclone in 2008; and with crisis-affected people in Uganda and Congo. I didn’t think I was naive about humanitarian crises – but Europe presents by far the most appalling set of circumstances I have seen.
I spent two weeks trekking the migrant trail from Greece to France for a BBC documentary about the migration crisis with my twin brother, Chris, who’s a doctor too. We wanted to learn more about the health issues afflicting migrants. The crisis is ludicrously complex; the vast number of countries, religions and languages involved put it beyond the comprehension of any single person. But some things become breathtakingly clear once you meet individuals who have made the journey to Europe.
I was sitting in the clinic in the migrant camp in Dunkirk with a mother who refused to take her sickly child to the local hospital. I met the one-year-old as I toured the camp, and I was concerned she might have measles. I asked her mum to bring her to the clinic, a short walk from her camp.
No parent should face decisions like this; no child should be at risk like this
The mum lived with the six children she cared for in a number of collapsing tents lined with damp blankets that were covered with mould that looked like week-old bread. The tents were pitched in a muddy patch in the crowded woods. The whole area was thick with smoke from burning plastic and wood, as people struggled to stay warm. The ground was scattered with rotting food scraps, rats and human faeces. The nearest lavatory, a filthy, freezing portable toilet, was a 10-minute walk away.
At the clinic, my suspicions were confirmed: it was measles, one of the most contagious virus in the world. It spreads extremely easily and few of the children fleeing war have had vaccinations. We urged the woman to go to the French hospital nearby, but she declined. She looked exhausted. She had fled the chaos of Isis in Iraq, suffering terribly and expensively at the hands of human traffickers, to try and give her children a better life – and now her baby had contracted a potentially fatal disease in modern France. She was terrified of the authorities, and terrified to leave her other children alone in the camp, where trafficking is all too common. No parent should face decisions like this; no child should be at risk like this.
Dr Chris van Tulleken inside a medical tent in Serbia. Photograph: Tomiko Newson/BBC/Little Gem Media/Vito D'ettorre
Her desperate situation seemed to undermine any ideas we might hold about modern European values. To me, her suffering made a mockery of all the“successes” of the “civilised world”. I have never cried in a camp or hospital before, but the horror and injustice reduced me to tears.
There are things that can be done: the medical charities are doing superb work in desperate circumstances, and many small organisations have formed to address migrants’ needs at every stage of their route. But there are children suffering all over Europe, camped out in the cold, traumatised and ill. Last week, an Iraqi woman with four small children was forced to sleep in a medical tent in Greece when her tent was waterlogged.
Witnessed up-close, this mass movement feels like a reckoning. The roads around Calais that lead to the ferries and the Channel tunnel are almost entirely enclosed in bright-white barbed-wire fences, and there are armed and armoured police patrolling for miles around the ports. Last week, David Cameron pledged £17m to enhancing security at the port of Calais – and it already looks like every dystopian-future movie I’ve ever seen.
But these efforts look absurd when you consider the thousands of people who arrive every day in Greece. Almost as many people seeking refuge have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe in the first two months of 2016 as did in the first six months of 2015; 410 people have died to date.
To me, there seems to be two ways to react. First, to react in fear, building barriers along borders. There are many feasible policy proposals that detail ways to exclude or return people. But these plans seem unlikely to stop the million migrants that Europe is expecting this year.
The second reaction is to treat this movement as inevitable and to help people who want safety and opportunities and who are fleeing from violence and chaos. The global inequality that we in the west benefit from is creating a pressure to move that is irresistible. This must compel us to treat migrants as human beings.