I walk in and feel the heaviness of the space, despite the smiles around us. We gather a group of 500 men in no time at all, along with a handful of kids and women. We perform for an hour and a half, our longest show so far. Each time we’re about to end, a feeling inside tells us to keep going.
Sabine Choucair, CWB clown and Clown Me In founder
CWB – USA returns to the Balkan Route, performing for migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Romania. Some of the performances are planned for people with official refugee status, residing in camps. Other performances are for migrants and Roma people who live in temporary camps.
This is CWB’s third tour along the Balkan route (previous tours in 2017 and 2018). In past years, audience members report remembering the clowns from 2015 and 2016 tours in Lesvos. The Balkan Tour epitomizes the complexity of modern displacement. Many of the migrants on the Balkan route fled Syria in 2014 or 2015. They continue to be displaced and migratory, many of them lacking the rights and privileges afforded by an official nationality.
When people hear the word “refugee,” they often think of temporary displacement. In fact, in 2015, more than half of the world’s refugees lived in protracted displacement. The overall number of people attempting the Balkan Route dropped significantly from an all-time high in 2015, but many people along the Balkan Route remain stuck. They’re refused asylum in their current nation of residence, unable to move forward across national borders, and unwilling to go back. These people travel alone or with families, sleep in the woods or makeshift camps, and cross the border each night, only to be repulsed by border guards. They flee unspeakable violence throughout Western Asia and North Africa, and hope to find work and security in the European Union. The Balkan Route pushed further south in the past year, signaling migrants’ attempts to protect themselves against ultranationalist border policies and human rights abuses in some EU countries.
Vlunchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen is committed to serving people fleeing war, violence, and persecution. By working with member organizations and volunteers, the organization raises awareness among the general public and places pressure on policy-makers. CWB – USA joins their Road to Connect program, with student researchers from throughout Belgium who’ve been trained in the complexities of migrant journeys. For this tour, CWB reunites with long-time partner organization Clown Me In.
CWB – USA is also supported by Jeroen, who functions as the Balkan Tour logistician for the third year in a row. Jeroen has extensive experience with the refugee volunteer network throughout the Balkan region.
CWB is thrilled to welcome Dustin Allen on his first tour. Dustin is a professional musician and clown, raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He trained at Dell’Arte in Blue Lake California. David Lichtenstein, aka Leapin Louie, has performed with CWB – USA for 25 years. In addition to performing with CWB, David also coordinates the selection of all of CWB – USA’s professional touring artists, and produces the annual Portland, Oregon, benefit show. Sabine Choucair, co-founder of Lebanon-based Clown Me In, has participated in every Balkan Route tour. Clown Me In spreads laughter and provides relief to disadvantaged communities, while exploring human vulnerabilities and helping individuals to accept them.
David and Dustin’s airfare and insurance is covered by CWB’s members’ monthly January and February donations. Vlunchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen supports the clowns by providing some of their transportation and meals. Clown Me In provides airfare for Sabine and Ali (videographer). The rest of the direct costs are supported by the 20th Annual Portland Benefit Show.