How a moving gesture caused so much hate

Bitterness, sadness, hope: these are the emotions we felt when we first saw this picture.  A long hug between Luna Reyes, a Red Cross volunteer, and a Senegalese boy who had just arrived from Morocco on one of the beaches of the Spanish enclave – on the 20th of May, together with thousands of other people. 

A simple hug to a person who, with great difficulty, had arrived on a Spanish beach, but was surrounded by soldiers and police ready to push him back into the sea. “He saw that they were throwing the others back into the water and he wanted to kill himself. I tried to calm him down, he kept crying” – Luna explained to Rtve television. The man clung to her “as if she was a lifesaver” and, after bringing him some water, Luna tried to comfort him – desperately sobbing and attempted to calm him down. He had arrived swimming with a friend, who was apparently missing. 

It’s a moving gesture – yet, not everyone welcomed this episode of humanity the same way. According to the Iberian media, in addition to receiving insulting messages, Reyes was also hit by an avalanche of hatred on social media, a reaction that led this 20-year-old girl to give up access to her profiles at least for a while. “I just hugged him” she told Spanish public television RTVE, “At that moment, it seemed to her the most normal response in the world to a request for help.

Reyes said she lost track of the young man shortly afterward, without even knowing his name. According to the Spanish government, they fear that the boy is one of the thousands of migrants already returned to Morocco (out of 8,000 arrivals between Monday and Tuesday: at least 6,000 people have already been removed or returned spontaneously to the Spanish government).

This all started because of a new migration crisis between Spain and Morocco. How did the crisis arise? It all started at the end of April, when Spain decided to welcome Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front, who recently broke the truce with Morocco in the endless conflict for sovereignty over Western Sahara, militarily occupied Morocco, for “humanitarian reasons” for decades. Ghali, suffering from Covid, was hospitalized in a hospital in Logroño in the Rioja region. After learning through its intelligence services of the Sahrawi leader’s presence in Spain, Rabat threatened retaliation. And the most immediate weapon is always the loosening of border controls with migrants, which would be part of this cruel political “game.” The border police of Morocco loosened controls at the crucial border points, and thousands of people were able to reach the Spanish enclave relatively more easily than usual. Briefly, the Moroccan authorities have done nothing to stop them due to a diplomatic confrontation.

With a population of 80,000, Ceuta is an enclave located on the northern tip of Morocco opposite Gibraltar. The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and neighboring Melilla on Morocco’s north coast have long been a magnet for African migrants seeking to reach Europe searching for a better life.

Many sustained Luna with the hashtag “#GraciasLuna” – a solidarity campaign that also attracted government members: “It is much more than a photo. It is a symbol of hope and solidarity“, commented Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Diaz.

We live in a complex age with its particularities, and the most worrying one is the tendency to make hatred and selfishness “normal.” This is a process that labels “normal” whoever insults immigrants or who would let them drown and classify them as “do-gooders,” those who dare to hug one of them when he arrives desperate. This is a system that wants us divided, and when this does not occur, the supporters of this system start to insult and threaten – just like it happened to Luna, who was forced to close the social networks due to a harmless hug. If in today’s world, remaining indifferent to innocent people getting shot at borders or left to drown it’s becoming “normal”,  then we need to face the fact that there is an underlying problem. If there had been a person with a different nationality, would things have been the same? If the color of his skin would have been white, would there still have been all this hate? I believe the answer is no, and this is truly heartbreaking. In 2021, the color of your skin still has the power to imprison and condemn someone innocent. In a world that considers hate, racism, and indifference “normal”, we are forced to face the proof of how much the world is not equal, fair, and understanding to everyone. 

Have the courage to be on the right side of humanity, even when it involves insults and sacrifices. Have the courage to speak up, take action, and help others, only in this way things can change because, sadly, in 2021 people still believe we have more than one race, each for every color, but we are only one, the human race.

Giulia Francesca Pressani

Sources:

“La Storia Di Luna Reyes, La Volontaria Costretta a Lasciare I Social Per Il Troppo Odio.” L’Espresso. Last modified May 21, 2021. https://espresso.repubblica.it/attualita/2021/05/21/news/luna_reyes_foto_migrante_ceuta-302091795/.

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