The Doctor Without Borders

What MSF founder Jacques Bérès takes with him to the field.

30566_130418_ThingsCarried_Web_200.jpg
30566_130418_ThingsCarried_Web_200.jpg

Jacques Bérès co-founded Médecins Sans Frontières in 1971, but these days the white-bearded 71-year-old often acts like a one-man "doctor without borders." The border he has been crossing recently is the one into war-torn Syria, where he has headed into rebel territory over and over again, entering illegally from Turkey and often during peaks of horrific violence. Sometimes, Bérès practices war surgery in actual, if rudimentary, hospitals; other times he sets up shop wherever he can receive people in need. The work is relentless: With bombs exploding nearby, sleep can be nearly impossible, and death is never far. "Syria," he says, shaking his head, "is a mess. A real mess."

Foreign Policy visited Bérès in his Paris apartment weeks before a trip "with some friends" to the Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The French doctor's suitcase, a muddied but sturdy old Samsonite with an Ethiopian Airlines sticker on the side, was packed with his gear -- ready to go at a moment's notice. "I need to be prepared to leave for anywhere within 10 minutes," he says.

Jacques Bérès co-founded Médecins Sans Frontières in 1971, but these days the white-bearded 71-year-old often acts like a one-man “doctor without borders.” The border he has been crossing recently is the one into war-torn Syria, where he has headed into rebel territory over and over again, entering illegally from Turkey and often during peaks of horrific violence. Sometimes, Bérès practices war surgery in actual, if rudimentary, hospitals; other times he sets up shop wherever he can receive people in need. The work is relentless: With bombs exploding nearby, sleep can be nearly impossible, and death is never far. “Syria,” he says, shaking his head, “is a mess. A real mess.”

Foreign Policy visited Bérès in his Paris apartment weeks before a trip “with some friends” to the Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The French doctor’s suitcase, a muddied but sturdy old Samsonite with an Ethiopian Airlines sticker on the side, was packed with his gear — ready to go at a moment’s notice. “I need to be prepared to leave for anywhere within 10 minutes,” he says.

Photographs by Sébastien Deslandes.

Eric Pape is a writer in Paris.

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.