More than 1,800 people have backed a call to Spanish authorities to regularize the immigration status of an undocumented Senegalese after his second rescue from a stranger who drowned in the main river of Bilbao.
Mouhammad Diouf was with a friend Sunday afternoon when he saw a man who seemed dizzy on one of the city’s bridges. “He was trying to hold onto the railing when he fell into the water,” Diouf told the Guardian. “We were quite far away. I threw away my backpack and went for a run. “
When he reached the bridge, the 27-year-old saw that the 72-year-old man had landed face down in the water. “I was in a really dangerous situation,” he said. “I didn’t think, I just jumped.”
Video of the rescue showed Diouf struggling to keep the unconscious man afloat amid strong currents as passersby shouted instructions and encouragement. Two other Senegalese people and a plainclothes police officer jumped in to help, and the group was able to carry the man to safety in a passing boat after about 20 minutes in the water.
It was not the first time that Diouf rescued someone from the Nervión river, which divides Bilbao. In September he jumped into the same river in the early hours of the morning after seeing a young woman who had fallen, he said. The rescue was again videotaped, with footage showing Diouf pulling the woman out of the water using a flotation device thrown at her by police.
As the video of his most recent rescue accumulated views on social media, where many people contrasted the actions of the migrants with the anti-immigrant rhetoric launched by the country’s far right, a local group. launched an online petition calling for Diouf’s status to be regularized.
“We want Mouhamed [sic] Diouf that he be granted the papers that will allow him to continue his life in our country in a legal and comfortable way, without fear of being arrested and deported ”, reads the petition, launched by the group Wolof for Women Who Love Senegal. Wolof is the most widely spoken language in Senegal.
The move is not without precedent: last year, under public pressure, the Spanish government granted residency and a work permit to a Senegalese migrant who pulled a wheelchair user from a burning apartment on a second floor in the coastal city of Denia.
Diouf, who arrived in Spain more than four years ago after a harrowing 20-month journey that took him through Mauritania and Morocco before landing off Spanish shores in a boat, said he was moved by the request. Between odd jobs, he had been taking courses in trades such as welding in hopes of finding a position that would allow him to apply for Spanish residency.
“If it works, it’s great,” he said. “But what I did came out of my heart. Not for any other reason. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism