Local authorities are urging the central government to consider giving residency to undocumented hero Gorgui Lamine Sow from Senegal after his selfless act of bravery.
“I didn’t think about it… I just dropped my things and started climbing.”
Spanish authorities are considering giving residency to an undocumented Senegalese migrant after he rescued a man who uses a wheelchair from a burning, second-storey apartment.
After ensuring the man he had rescued was OK, he picked up his goods and fled the scene
According to El País, street vendor Gorgui Lamine Sow, 20, was selling his bracelets and necklaces on the streets of Dénia, a popular seaside town on the Spanish Mediterranean coast on Friday 8 December when he heard screams nearby. It was a national holiday marking the start of a long weekend to observe the 41st anniversary of the Spanish Constitution, and the city was filling up with visitors.
He rushed over to a crowd watching black smoke pouring out of a second-floor window. “They told me there was a man trapped inside the apartment,” the 20-year-old said. “I didn’t think about it. I just dropped my things and started climbing.”
He scaled the balcony, entering the burning apartment as smoke filled the street. Once inside he hoisted the resident over his shoulders and carried him down a ladder set up by a neighbour. Local media identified the resident as 39-year-old Alex Caudeli Webster.
“If Gorgui had not pulled Alex to safety when he did then Alex would not have survived,” neighbour Roberta Etter said. “Gorgui literally saved his life.”
As emergency officials neared the scene, the rescuer panicked. “If the police saw me they would confiscate my goods,” said Sow, who lives with his girlfriend and seven-month-old daughter in the nearby city of Gandia. “And if they take them from me, we’re not eating tomorrow.”
Sow found out days later that neighbours were hailing him as a hero. “I’m just happy that the man is fine,” he said, adding that the man he rescued was treated for burns and smoke inhalation.
As news spread of the rescue, local authorities urged the central government to consider giving him residency. A source with the government delegation in Valencia confirmed they are studying his case.
Residency would make life much easier, said Sow, who arrived in Spain in 2017, allowing him the chance to find work besides selling goods on the street.
“There are people who, when I try to show them stuff, they don’t look at me, they won’t talk to me,” he said. “It’s really difficult to do this job.”
Local authorities have asked the central government to grant hero residency papers
“I didn’t think about anything. I just heard screams and ran to help,” Sow said on Tuesday, sitting next to the man he saved, Álex Caudeli Webster, who was recovering from a stroke and sitting in a wheelchair, unable to escape the blaze.
“He saved my life. He climbed the wall and tore down the blind that was on fire. When I tried to go out on the balcony with my walker, the blind hit me on the nose and ear, and look what it did to me,” said Caudeli, showing the bandages on his face.
“He grabbed me like I was a sack of rice, and he really took the strain, because besides not being able to walk, I have a problem in my legs, I suffer from vertigo, and I couldn’t hold still,” explained Caudeli, 39, with his dog Luky at his side.
Tall, strong and with a permanent smile on his face, the Senegalese street vendor shrugged when he was asked whether he feels like a hero. “I did it without thinking,” he said.
“A hero? I don’t know. He is a good person,” added his partner, Gana Gadiaga, also from Senegal, who was carrying their seven-month-old baby Ndeye on her back.
On the day of the fire, a neighbour named Roberta showed up with a fire extinguisher, while someone else brought a ladder to help Lamine and Caudeli get off the balcony safely. But everyone points at Lamine as the real hero of the day. As soon as he was back on the ground, he simply walked away without expecting anything in return. He had to get back to his family.
For the entire weekend, there was much speculation as to his identity. On Monday, local authorities in Dénia announced that they wanted to decorate the mysterious hero. Finally, a local reporter working for Levante EMV found him, and the city of Dénia asked the central government to give him residency and work papers (his partner and child already have long-term residency permits, Diario Información reported).
The government delegate’s office in the Valencia region is currently analysing the request, and if it meets the legal requirements for extraordinary cases such as this one, Lamine will be granted papers.
The case inevitably brings up memories of Mamoudou Gassama, an immigrant from Mali who climbed an apartment building in Paris to save a child who was hanging from a balcony. Gassama received French citizenship and fulfilled his dream of becoming a firefighter. Read more on that story here.
Lamine said that he would ideally like to be a truck driver, but that any job will do. He hopes that all the publicity will help improve his family’s situation. He left Senegal over three years ago – “There is no work there, things are really bad,” he explained – and lived in Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina before coming to Spain. “We want to stay,” he said, picking up his goods before setting off for Gandia again. “It’s nice here.”
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