Smile, it’s an emergency: Clowning around with refugees

Members of the 'Red Nose Clown doctors’ perform for migrants at the Main Train Station in Vienna, Austria.

Members of the ‘Red Nose Clown doctors’ perform for migrants at the Main Train Station in Vienna, Austria.

It’s miserable and raining outside as a few hundred tired migrants mill around a damp underpass at Vienna’s main train station waiting to continue their long journey to northern Europe.

Suddenly, a man wearing a red nose, tartan plus-fours and a brown leather aviator’s cap enters, leading a noisy procession of three clowns — all with a silly but also serious mission.

They are from “Red Noses Emergency Smile Austria,” a project using 66 clowns to spread some cheer among the thousands of migrants still arriving Austria daily, particularly the children.

“You don’t need to know the language, you just laugh and you feel a connection,” Simone Mang, a spokeswoman for the organizers, told AFP.

“Children need to have a little time to themselves, and play and laugh and forget about the circumstances,” she said.

At first there is a stunned silence as the clowns — professional actors who underwent special training — stomp in, playing an accordion and rattling tambourines.

But as the trio engage in a slapstick routine, the ice breaks. Laughter, clapping and cheering erupts as people gather round, carrying children on their shoulders and filming the scene on their phones.

Then there is a dancing session just for the children, who are given tambourines, ribbons and little pots of bubble-blowing solution.

Afterwards they are led away, giggling, to a special play room where they can draw, paint and interact with the clowns. “They are happy, at least we find peace,” said Hossam, a Palestinian, as he watched his four young children play, blowing bubbles and leaping onto a blue crash mat.

“I escaped from my country for them… For their future, to have good education, to have a good life, if God is willing.”

“The (reaction) is amazing. So many eyes, so many beautiful eyes. Such beautiful colors, so clear and so direct,” one of the clowns, Marie Miklau, 37, told AFP.

“But at the same time we had very sensitive moments to look behind the party to see the more silent people, the humans inside. You see also the journey they had, and also the suffering,” she said.

Organized largely on social media, the initiative provides everything from hot food and medical help — they even have an electrocardiogram machine with doctors on hand — to clothing and hygiene articles.

There are also interpreters, psychologists and a missing persons point that posts pictures on Facebook and shares information with other organizations abroad.


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