Refugees

Spanish aid volunteer abused online for hugging Senegalese migrant

Luna Reyes targeted by far-right supporters after footage of gesture goes viral

“He was crying, I held out my hand and he hugged me,” Luna Reyes said. “He clung to me. That embrace was his lifeline”

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EUROPEAN PRESS GROUP

The image captured the raw humanity of the moment: a Red Cross volunteer tenderly consoling a Senegalese man moments after he stepped foot in Spain’s north African enclave of Ceuta. Hours after the footage went viral, however, Luna Reyes set her social media accounts to private after she was targeted by a torrent of abuse from supporters of Spain’s far-right Vox party and others incensed by the unprecedented arrival of 8,000 migrants in Ceuta.

“They saw that my boyfriend was Black, they wouldn’t stop insulting me and saying horrible, racist things to me,” the 20-year-old, who has been volunteering with the Red Cross since March as part of her studies, told the Spanish television channel RTVE.

As news spread of the abuse, the internet began fighting back. Messages hailing the hug soon began pouring in, drowning out the insults and sending the hashtag #GraciasLuna trending in Spain.

“We will not allow hatred to win,” Rita Maestre, a councillor for the city of Madrid, said on Twitter. “Those of us who see this embrace as a symbol of the best of our country outnumber the others.”

Reyes downplayed the gesture, describing the action of hugging someone in need as “the most normal thing in the world”. She hadn’t caught the man’s name but had seen he was battling exhaustion and had given him water.

“He was crying, I held out my hand and he hugged me,” she said. “He clung to me. That embrace was his lifeline.”

Days after he arrived in Ceuta she hadn’t seen him again.

As she worried that he might have been among the 5,600 people sent back to Morocco, plaudits rolled in on Twitter from Spanish TV presenters, artists and the highest levels of government.

“#Gracias Luna for representing the best values of our society,” said Spain’s economy minister, Nadia Calviño. “Much more than a photo. A symbol of hope and solidarity,” remarked Spain’s labour minister, Yolanda Díaz.

The secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Jagan Chapagain, also weighed in. “Luna represents our very best,” he wrote.

“#Gracias Luna, for shining a light. Gracias Luna for showing the world what humanity looks like.”

Reyes didn’t address the message of support in her brief remarks to reporters. She said she was still reeling from the experience of being on the frontlines as thousands of migrants, many of them weary from swimming around the breakwater that straddles the border, arrived in Ceuta in the span of 36 hours.

“We were not trained to see something like that,” she said.

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