Migrants who have travelled all the way across the Mediterranean and through southern Europe are now facing a new challenge when they reach the streets of Vienna: an army of do-gooders dressed as clowns.
A group called ‘Red Noses Emergency Smile Austria’ are sending out 66 clowns to mingle with the thousands of migrants arriving daily in the city. Dressed in red noses and tartan plus-fours while playing accordions and tambourines, the clowns perform slap-stick routines as the migrants wait for a chance to board the next train to Germany.
AFP says that laughter, clapping and cheering soon erupts, as migrants gather round with their children and film the scenes on their smartphones.
The clowns – who are all professionally trained actors – also perform special dancing sessions for the children and give them bubble-blowing kits.
One of the clowns, Marie Miklau, 37, said: “The (reaction) is amazing. So many eyes, so many beautiful eyes. Such beautiful colours, so clear and so direct.”
However there is a serious side: “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.”
Simone Mang, a spokeswoman for the group, added: “You don’t need to know the language, you just laugh and you feel a connection.
“Children need to have a little time to themselves, and play and laugh and forget about the circumstances.”
Last month, a leaked document from the Austrian finance ministry revealed the country could spend more than €12 billion over four years on the migrant influx, seven times more than its defence budget.
If the country admits 85,000 migrants in 2015 and a further 130,000 in 2016, that alone will cost €6.5 billion. When other costs such as primary care, guaranteed minimum income, health and integration measures are taken into account, this figure nearly doubles to €12.3 billion.
The Ministry of Finance immediately denied the figures, but they only served to fuel concern in the country about the rising level of migration.
The anti-mass migration Austrian Freedom Party recently performed particularly well in two regional elections.
After a record performance in Upper Austria, local party leader Josef Pühringer said: “Today’s election was not about Upper Austria, but about one topic only, namely asylum, the winners amplified the understandable fears and concerns of the people.”