African Migrants Treated as Royalty in Three Kings Celebration in Spain

African Migrants Treated as Royalty in Three Kings Celebration in Spain


Like many tales of its type — migrants fleeing insufferable lives — this one begins at sea, with 60 individuals jammed like livestock headed to market in a dinghy greatest suited to six.

What makes the journey of those immigrants from the Center East and Northern Africa completely different from others is just not the risks they braved earlier than a Spanish rescue crew noticed them final summer season within the Mediterranean. Every single day, migrants danger every part after they set sail for Europe — drowning, hunger, suffocation and, in the event that they attain land, rejection, detention, even enslavement by traffickers.

What makes this story distinctive is its comfortable ending, nearly as if in a fairy story.

It started on June 30, when Proactiva Open Arms, a search-and-rescue nongovernmental group in Spain, noticed the dinghy in waters close to 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 greater than a decade documenting migrants, was with Proactiva Open Arms when it discovered the migrants and photographed the rescue, as he has others. From the start, Mr. Calvo mentioned, this group was charmed.

They had been afforded alternatives most migrants rescued at sea by no means obtain, he mentioned, together with residing quarters and assist in in search of asylum. The same old finish to migrants’ goals, Mr. Calvo mentioned, is “they’re deported or dwell irregular lives for a few years. What is certain is that all of them have a really exhausting time making an attempt to acquire residency and developing a life with minimal dignity in Europe.”

This group, which included 5 ladies and 4 youngsters, was instantly assured acceptance. They had been relocated to an immigrant reception heart roughly 70 miles, or a little bit greater than 110 kilometers, away from Barcelona, in a picturesque metropolis referred to as Reus. For six months, the refugees have had language lessons within the morning and workshops within the afternoon to assist them put together to work and dwell independently.

At a time when “unlawful immigration” has turn out to be a political buzz noticed — when the USA president is demanding $5.7 billion for a border wall and European states have agreed to reject migrants — Reus has changed hostility with humanity.

In a transfer that underscored the dedication to the latest residents, metropolis officers had been satisfied by a social media marketing campaign to ask a number of of the migrants to hitch their largest annual celebration, the Pageant of the Three Kings, on Jan. 6, or Epiphany.

That’s the place Edu Bayer, a Barcelona-based freelance photographer, discovered this story’s extraordinary subsequent chapter.

Reus invited an African immigrant to play Balthazar, one of many three kings, or Magi, who took presents to child Jesus within the manger, and others to play his assistants. Balthazar, thought-about by Western church custom to be the King of Arabia, and a Moor, has historically been performed in blackface in Spain.

“In Spain, it’s a huge honor to be invited to be a king within the Three Kings Parade,” mentioned Mr. Bayer, who knew he wished to doc this event. “These days, it’s a multitudinous custom and deeply rooted all through Spain. Inviting just lately arrived African refugees is a novel case in a significant city in Spain.”

The pageant, as his photographs present, was a joyous crush of celebrants. The Africans, Mr. Bayer mentioned, “had been ecstatic and informed me they wished to do it once more subsequent 12 months.”

When Mr. Calvo, a good friend, confirmed him photographs from the Open Arms rescue six months earlier, Mr. Bayer was struck by one man: Honoré Becha, a father of 4 from Cameroon who left for work in 2014, solely to be kidnapped, tortured and enslaved for 4 years earlier than he managed to flee. He was the identical man chosen to play Balthazar.

Mr. Bayer mentioned he noticed Mr. Becha “appearing as a pacesetter in a small rubber boat in the course of the ocean. That imaginative and prescient was loopy, to see how an individual’s character makes its means into such reverse conditions.”

Two weeks after the Three Kings celebration, the Spanish authorities seized the boat used to rescue the 60 migrants. It grounded the boat for not taking rescued migrants to ports nearer to their rescue level, Italy or Malta, although each nations have refused to let the boat dock.

Mr. Bayer mentioned he wished to doc a constructive immigration story entwined with Spain’s most hallowed vacation.

“For me,” he mentioned, “seeing that and remembering the state of affairs within the rescue mission was a revelation of the unbelievable plot twists that life might have.”



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