Home / World / Europe / African Migrants Treated as Royalty in Three Kings Celebration in Spain

African Migrants Treated as Royalty in Three Kings Celebration in Spain

Like many stories of its kind — migrants fleeing unbearable lives — this one begins at sea, with 60 people jammed like livestock headed to market in a dinghy best suited for six.

What makes the journey of these immigrants from the Middle East and Northern Africa different from others is not the dangers they braved before a Spanish rescue crew spotted them last summer in the Mediterranean. Every day, migrants risk everything when they set sail for Europe — drowning, starvation, suffocation and, if they reach land, rejection, detention, even enslavement by traffickers.

What makes this story unique is its happy ending, almost as if in a fairy tale.

It began on June 30, when Proactiva Open Arms, a search-and-rescue nongovernmental organization in Spain, spotted the dinghy in waters near Libya. Denied a dock by Italy and Malta — most of Europe has cracked down on migrants crossing the Mediterranean — Proactiva Open Arms secured a port of entry in Barcelona.

Olmo Calvo, a Madrid-based photographer who has spent more than a decade documenting migrants, was with Proactiva Open Arms when it found the migrants and photographed the rescue, as he has others. From the beginning, Mr. Calvo said, this group was charmed.

They were afforded opportunities most migrants rescued at sea never receive, he said, including living quarters and help in seeking asylum. The usual end to migrants’ dreams, Mr. Calvo said, is “they are deported or live irregular lives for many years. What is sure is that they all have a very hard time trying to obtain residency and constructing a life with minimal dignity in Europe.”

This group, which included five women and four children, was immediately assured acceptance. They were relocated to an immigrant reception center approximately 70 miles, or a little more than 110 kilometers, away from Barcelona, in a picturesque city called Reus. For six months, the refugees have had language classes in the morning and workshops in the afternoon to help them prepare to work and live independently.

At a time when “illegal immigration” has become a political buzz saw — when the United States president is demanding $5.7 billion for a border wall and European states have agreed to reject migrants — Reus has replaced hostility with humanity.

In a move that underscored the commitment to the newest residents, city officials were convinced by a social media campaign to invite several of the migrants to join their largest annual celebration, the Festival of the Three Kings, on Jan. 6, or Epiphany.

That’s where Edu Bayer, a Barcelona-based freelance photographer, found this story’s extraordinary next chapter.

Reus invited an African immigrant to play Balthazar, one of the three kings, or Magi, who took gifts to baby Jesus in the manger, and others to play his assistants. Balthazar, considered by Western church tradition to be the King of Arabia, and a Moor, has traditionally been played in blackface in Spain.

“In Spain, it is a big honor to be invited to be a king in the Three Kings Parade,” said Mr. Bayer, who knew he wanted to document this occasion. “Nowadays, it is a multitudinous tradition and deeply rooted throughout Spain. Inviting recently arrived African refugees is a unique case in a major town in Spain.”

The festival, as his photos show, was a joyous crush of celebrants. The Africans, Mr. Bayer said, “were ecstatic and told me they wanted to do it again next year.”

When Mr. Calvo, a friend, showed him photos from the Open Arms rescue six months earlier, Mr. Bayer was struck by one man: Honoré Becha, a father of four from Cameroon who left for work in 2014, only to be kidnapped, tortured and enslaved for four years before he managed to escape. He was the same man chosen to play Balthazar.

Mr. Bayer said he saw Mr. Becha “acting as a leader in a small rubber boat in the middle of the ocean. That vision was crazy, to see how a person’s character makes its way into such opposite situations.”

Two weeks after the Three Kings celebration, the Spanish government seized the boat used to rescue the 60 migrants. It grounded the boat for not taking rescued migrants to ports closer to their rescue point, Italy or Malta, though both countries have refused to let the boat dock.

Mr. Bayer said he wanted to document a positive immigration story entwined with Spain’s most hallowed holiday.

“For me,” he said, “seeing that and remembering the situation in the rescue mission was a revelation of the incredible plot twists that life may have.”


Source link

About admin

World Media News delivers breaking news, headlines and top stories from business, politics, entertainment and more in the US and worldwide

Check Also

Five Places to Visit in Bergen, Norway

“The beautiful thing about Bergen is it doesn’t matter what time of year that you …

Leave a Reply

Translate »