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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 February 2008, 09:42 GMT
Exiled Iraqi clowns cheer refugees
By Lina Sinjab
BBC News, Damascus

Raham, Ali and Safi perform in a warehouse used by the UN
Rahman, Ali and Safi are members of Happy Family Clowns group, established in 2004 to put smiles on the faces of Iraqi children.

A few months ago the group started receiving death threats warning them against continuing their show, entitled A Child is as Scared as a Country.

But the clowns kept going, until two members of the troupe were murdered.

This was enough to drive the surviving three to leave Iraq.

"We don't know why they targeted us. We were entertaining children," says Rahman.

Like many thousands of fearful Iraqis, Rahman and his fellow clowns left their home and fled to Syria.

Not knowing what awaited them in Syria, they went to the UN refugee agency to register and ended up working with the UNHCR to entertain refugee children.

Harmless victims

Despite all efforts to provide security in Iraq, large numbers of Iraqis are still fleeing the country, with about 1,000 reportedly crossing into Syria daily, where they join a population of more than one million.

The show brings laughter to a community struggling to survive
The refugees are not allowed to work legally in Syria, and many families whose money is used up face the difficult choice of living in poverty or returning home with no guarantees of safety.

"We are lucky to find a job here, but we are stuck. We cannot leave, and we cannot even develop our work," says Rahman.

"We want to continue our studies and live safely. I left everything behind, my family and home."

The group hopes to be able to develop its repertoire, and maybe even travel the world giving performances.

"I miss Iraq but I cannot go back. We are afraid we will be killed... That's our destiny," said Rahman.

It always seems hard to understand the seemingly ceaseless killing in Iraq - even more so when the victims are as apparently harmless as a troupe of clowns.

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