Following the EU-Turkey statement of March 2016, Greece was forced to find accommodation for 50,000 refugees trapped in the country. The northern border with FYR Macedonia had been shut over the winter and the people who’d been waiting for it to open were hungry and they felt abandoned. They had been travelling for weeks looking for somewhere to rebuild their lives. Most were living in the open and had exhausted all their resources. The winter had been harsh. Almost half were children.
Then they found themselves moved to hastily prepared and cramped tented sites, mostly derelict military encampments. The state institutions were clearly failing people who had lost almost everything.
John Sloan was in Idomeni to see how he could help at that time and found himself in early April pleading with the commander of the refugee camp at Alexandreia to let him in. The Greek helicopter battalion were struggling with the needs of the 250 people who had just arrived there and John knew he could help them. After waiting for hours and talking his way up the chain of command, he convinced them to let him in and start providing some of their basic needs.
It was obviously too much for one person to handle so he phoned Paul Hutchings who he’d been working with in Calais over the previous 6 months. They had been helping to run Care4Calais and were good friends who both had business backgrounds and a similar philosophy.
Seeing the opportunity to make a difference to the 800 people who would come to stay at Alexandreia camp, John gave up on his retirement plans and Paul gave up his job to focus on it full time.
Distribution in Calais was unfair, undignified and messy. It was often upsetting. In the more settled and managed environment of an official refugee camp, they set about creating a system that put dignity, equality and fairness at the heart of their distribution and created a shop. Then they asked for donations and volunteers to help and it grew from there into an operation that has helped thousands of people.
John Sloan and Paul Hutchings founded and manage Refugee Support but all the achievements that followed are because people from all over the world came and helped. Their story is a story of human solidarity with resilient and resourceful people at a time when they needed some help.