Driving through northern Greece on a recent December night, a pair of volunteers from the grassroots aid group Help Refugees Help Refugees have just received this SOS from another aid worker. It is 7.32pm, and a young Afghan refugee is about to go into labour at one of Greece’s worst refugee camps. It is a few dozen tents on a remote and windswept hillside – but the government and the UN refugee agency can’t move her anywhere better.
As the temperature drops to 3C, the group’s network whirs into action. A call goes out to Filoxenia, a housing project funded by Help Refugees, to see if it can take in the pregnant woman. Behind the wheel in the car, Crystallynn Steed Brown says if the worst comes to the worst, she will put up the family at her flat in Thessaloniki. But can they get to the woman in time?
It is a typical night for Help Refugees, one of three beneficiaries of the Guardian’s Christmas charity appeal. The group is one of the unsung heroes of the European refugee crisis, a young grassroots collective that has tried to create a more dynamic form of aid in Calais and Greece, where even seasoned aid workers admit their traditional models have failed.