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political background / clowns without borders / the characters of the film / interviews in Arabic

The idea for the film Counting Tiles came up when Sabine, the director’s sister and a professional clown, was at the Greek island of Lesbos in October 2015 as part of the Clowns Without Borders. By that time, according to publications by the European Union, an average of 7.000 refugees arrived at Lesbos from Turkey every day. What was called the refugee crisis was covered by media from all over the world. Countless volunteers came to Lesbos and other places of arrival inside the EU to help welcoming the refugees.
On November 29th, 2015 the EU and Turkey implemented the Joint Action Plan which’s main aim is to prevent migration flows to the EU.
When Cynthia Choucair and her film-team, together with a group from the Clowns Without Borders, arrived in Lesbos in February 2016 the situation was completely different from October 2015: the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, had started its Operation Poseidon to strengthen the surveillance of the Greek maritime borders which leads to sight of huge vessels at the horizon and abandoned coasts. Those refugees who made it to Lesbos were imprisoned in Moria Registration Camp, unauthorized assistance to refugees was now punished and bulldozers had cleaned the beaches and piled up the live jackets into huge piles of rubbish.
In the following you find information on the sites of the film, on the new EU legislation, as well as on Clowns Without Bordes and the protagonists of Counting Tiles.

political background

Greece: Asylum Seekers Locked Up. Wretched Conditions for People in Need - by Human Rights Watch on April 14, 2016
(Athens) – Greek authorities, in coordination with the European Union, are automatically detaining all asylum seekers and migrants who arrive on the islands of Lesbos and Chios in deplorable conditions, Human Rights Watch said today. The detention of about 4,000 people creates particular hardships for vulnerable people who are held, such as children, pregnant women, and people with disabilities.
The blanket detention of all asylum seekers and migrants in closed facilities is unjustified, given the possibility of less restrictive options, and amounts to arbitrary detention. The two closed facilities should be converted into open camps with appropriate services and safety for people needing protection from war, persecution, and human rights abuses. continue

Conditions on Lesbos Worsen for Refugees and Residents - by Giorgos Christides and Katrin Kuntz for Spiegel Online on November 24, 2017
Those wishing to visit ground zero of European ignominy must simply drive up an olive tree-covered hill on the island of Lesbos until the high cement walls of Camp Moria come into view. "Welcome to prison," someone has spray-painted on the walls. The dreadful stench of urine and garbage greets visitors and the ground is covered with hundreds of plastic bags. It is raining, and filthy water has collected ankle-deep on the road. The migrants who come out of the camp are covered with thin plastic capes and many of them are wearing only flipflops on their feet as they walk through the soup. Children are crying as men jostle their way through the crowd.
Welcome to one of the most shameful sites in all of Europe. Camp Moria was originally built to handle 2,330 refugees. But currently it is home to 6,489. Continue

Rare look at life inside Lesbos' Moria refugee camp. Images capture living conditions the Greek island's largest camp, home to thousands of refugees and migrants - by Kevin McElvaney for aljazeera.com on 19 January 2018
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Welcome 2 Lesvos
Welcome 2 Lesvos is a blog run by a network of activists on Lesvos island and beyond. It has been active since 2013. Read reports and eye witness accounts

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EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan: Implementation Report
On 29 November 2015, at the EU-Turkey summit, the Joint Action Plan was activated. Its aim is to step up cooperation for the support of Syrian refugees under temporary protection and their host communities in Turkey and to strengthen cooperation to prevent irregular migration flows to the EU. The implementation of the Joint Action Plan should bring order into migratory flows and help to stem irregular migration.
Work on the implementation of the Plan needs to be continued and reinforced, and progress made towards its full and effective implementation. It is important that the impact of the coordinated EU-Turkey efforts are rapidly reflected in results, in particular stemming the influx of irregular migrants.
EU Operations in the Mediterranean Sea. Read the EU’s full implementation report (pdf)

EU-Turkey statement – by the European Council on 18 March 2016
Turkey and the European Union reconfirmed their commitment to the implementation of their joint action plan activated on 29 November 2015. Much progress has been achieved already, including Turkey's opening of its labour market to Syrians under temporary protection, the introduction of new visa requirements for Syrians and other nationalities, stepped up security efforts by the Turkish coast guard and police and enhanced information sharing. Moreover, the European Union has begun disbursing the 3 billion euro of the Facility for Refugees in Turkey for concrete projects and work has advanced on visa liberalisation and in the accession talks, including the opening of Chapter 17 last December. On 7 March 2016, Turkey furthermore agreed to accept the rapid return of all migrants not in need of international protection crossing from Turkey into Greece and to take back all irregular migrants intercepted in Turkish waters. Turkey and the EU also agreed to continue stepping up measures against migrant smugglers and welcomed the establishment of the NATO activity on the Aegean Sea. At the same time Turkey and the EU recognise that further, swift and determined efforts are needed. Read full press release of the EU council

EU Operations in the Mediterranean Sea
OPERATION POSEIDON provides Greece with technical assistance with the goal of strengthening its border surveillance, its ability to save lives at sea and its registration and identification capacities.  Frontex also assists the Greek authorities in carrying out returns and readmissions. Its operational area covers the Greek sea borders with Turkey and the Greek islands. Read full explanation of the EU about their Operation (pdf)

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Clowns Without Borders

Clowns Without Borders was founded in Barcelona in July 1993. The idea began when Tortell Poltrona, a professional clown in Spain, was invited to perform in a refugee camp in Croatia. This performance unexpectedly attracted audiences of more than 700 children, proving to Poltrona that there is a great need for clowns and entertainment in crisis situations.  He founded Clowns Without Borders to offer humor as a means of psychological support to communities that have suffered trauma. Read more

the characters of the film

The main character of the film is the group of clowns consisting of Sabine Choucair from Lebanon and Kolleen Kintz, Jan Damm and the logistician Tamara Palmer from the United States. Along the way we meet Jean-Sebastien Lopez who decides to join the clowns on their trip and have a closer look to what the media has been propagating during the refugee influx on the Greek islands.

Sabine is a Lebanese clown and storyteller, certified in social therapy and performing arts. She has been clowning around the world with her group Clown Me In and Clowns without Borders for the past 10 years. She initiated and was the team leader of the first trip to Lesvos with CWB in October2015. Sabine’s presence during the Lesvos trip is shaped by a an empathetic energy and motivation. Even though the group of clowns is faced with challenges and difficulties from the very beginning, she mostly resists frustration. Yet, the narrative layer of the film revealed in a conversation with her sister turns the trip to a highly personal one of remembrance. In order to survive the displacement, Sabine the child used to thrive in the company of two imaginary friends, Hadi and Madi: An unconscious reaction to her stolen childhood.

Kolleen is an A merican clown, photographer and musician. She joined the Clowns Without Borders team in2011, and performed in Indonesia and Haiti. Joining the Lesvos mission was an opportunity to connect with families in need of empathy as they navigated unimaginable challenges. Her presence in the film is verbally very subtle, and is mostly expressed through her clown Character. She is the only one to maintain her clownish attitude throughout the journey. Her presence highlights the irony of the clowns trying to break through the bureaucratic red tape.

Jan is an American clown, juggler, and circus creator. He has traveled on relief missions with Clowns Without Borders to Haiti, Indonesia, Lebanon, and beyond. It is through Jan's frustration that the spectator gets to understand the limitations faced by the clowns. He is the only character to reveal the presence of the camera by addressing it directly and therefore questioning the functionality of the medium in this context.

Tamara is not a professional clown herself but an exveteran. Joining CWB, she found a space where her input is highly appreciated and regarded as meaningful. Coming from a farmer family, she ended up joining the American army in order to finance her higher education. This resulted in her being sent to Iraq, serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. By volunteering with the clowns on their mission as the project logistician, Tamara tries to make up for the atrocities she witnessed during the Iraq war.

Sebastien is a French/Belgian scriptwriter and director. He saw a viral video made by AJ+ covering the performances of CWB on Lesvos in 2015. He was very much moved by the joy and the laughter resulting from the refugees interaction with the clowns, got in touch with Sabine, and decided to join the clowns on their second mission to Lesvos. Being the only European among the group, Sebastien's presence and critical thinking allows us to reflect on Europe’s refugee politics. It also brings to the front a point of view different from what the media is propagating to the world.

interviews in Arabic

Cynthia Choucair: Each life vest has a story at Aljazeera online
The program Filmy on araby.tv at Rotterdam International Film Festival