The plight of Syrian and other refugees fleeing war, and living in camps near Calais, prompted Dr Sonia Allam, a consultant anaesthetist at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, to join a group of 14 volunteers to provide aid and medical treatment.
Together they packed a van with blankets, sleeping bags, medicine and warm clothing, which had been donated by members of the public.
Dr Allam, who only started volunteering at the end of last year, has now travelled twice to the refugee camps in northern France. She first visited Calais last November and her latest trip was to Calais and Dunkirk refugee camps. She was also one of two doctors who were able to provide basic medical care and advice. Her medical ‘team’ also included another volunteer trained in biomedical science, who is fluent in Arabic, and therefore provided great assistance with interpretation and communication.
She said: “Last time we had only limited equipment and supplies. This time, because we understood what the local needs are, we were able to collect more appropriate essential supplies and medication.
“I’ve always been keen to use my skills to help those who don’t have ready access to the excellent healthcare we are fortunate to have here, and so I was grateful for this opportunity to assist in some way.
“Healthcare for the refugees in Calais and Dunkirk is very limited, with little provision for care of those with chronic medical conditions. One gentleman we met on our first trip had taken no insulin for four days, as he simply didn’t have any. He would then have to go to hospital as an emergency when he became very unwell. Conditions were also so cold, damp and unhygienic. It was especially difficult to see families with small children living in such an awful environment.”
In a BBC Scotland interview on their arrival in France, the group leader Assam Mohammad described conditions at the camp as very rough.
“The people don’t even have shoes. They don’t even have blankets. There are three or four of them getting covered by one blanket.
“We are trying to give them as much as we can. We have jackets, we have some shoes, we have gloves, we have sleeping bags. But really the need is far, far more than what we have got here.”