Clowns bring smiles to the weary in Austria

“Red Noses Emergency Smile Austria” members performing for migrants at Vienna’s main train station last Thursday. The project uses 66 clowns to spread cheer among the thousands of migrants arriving in Austria daily, particularly the children.
“Red Noses Emergency Smile Austria” members performing for migrants at Vienna’s main train station last Thursday. The project uses 66 clowns to spread cheer among the thousands of migrants arriving in Austria daily, particularly the children. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

VIENNA • It is 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 cheer among the thousands of migrants still arriving in Austria daily, particularly the children.

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 erupt 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 playroom where they can draw, paint and interact with the clowns.

The project came from Red Nose Clowndoctors, a charity that has been sending clowns into Austrian hospitals to cheer up patients since 1994 and is now active in 10 countries. It is part of an immense voluntary effort that has sprung up since migrants began flooding into Austria in large numbers last month - mostly on their way elsewhere - and who keep coming every day.

"They are happy. At least we find peace," said Mr 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 a good education, to have a good life, if God is willing."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2015, with the headline 'Clowns bring smiles to the weary in Austria'. Print Edition | Subscribe