We know refugees face hardships, yet sometimes it’s difficult to give these hardships a name or a proverbial face. Perhaps that is why I was moved by an article about the work of midwives in a refugee encampment in Calais in Northern France. Young girls fleeing conflicts, epidemics, natural disasters and the like often come or become unaccompanied and usually end up under the protection of a “brother” who may be more pimp than sibling. They get pregnant either because of them, rape, or at times for the same reasons we do. Sometimes it is a high risk pregnancy, in the case of a young girl in this article it was due to having RH negative factor in her blood while that of her fetus is RH positive. Besides pregnancy, other problems exist. Some of the young girls seeking asylum have been cut, have undergone female genital mutilation. The lack of sanitation makes them even more prone to vaginal infections, in fact such infections are quite common among female refugees and asylum seekers. Items such as sanitary napkins, so easy for women like us, are not available. The only help for all of them is from Gynecologie Sans Frontiere, a volunteer organization very much like Medecins Sans Frontieres which was begun in 1995 and which has worked in many countries including Bangladesh, Afghanistan or the Democratic Republic of Congo and is made up of gynecologists and midwives. In the Calais encampment five midwives are there on rotation, two at a time during a 14 day annual leave from their regular employment. The refugees hide sometimes in groups speaking the same language, and the midwives have to search the woods to find them and offer what help they can, if it’s nothing but a sanitary kit. It can be pitch dark in the woods as early as 4:30pm, making their task even more challenging. Language barriers exist and can be helped by Google Translate. There is a safe house for women needing shelter either for medical or humane reasons, which only has room for 6, and it is almost always hard to decide who shall be in the safe house.
It’s so easy to forget about the work of aid workers, and after the revelations of the sexual abuses by UN and Oxfam workers, to sometimes dismiss their efforts. And yet they exist and do immense good. I actually did not know Gynecologie Sans Frontieres existed as a separate group, and knowing it does reaffirms my belief in humanity’s capacity for doing good.