Gorgui Lamine Sow, an undocumented migrant from Senegal has become a hero in Spain after he saved a man in a wheelchair from a fire in the man’s apartment. Now, the Spanish authorities are considering whether to award Sow a residency permit. More than 55,000 people have signed an online petition asking that they do so.
“I didn’t think about anything. I just heard screams and ran to help,” Gorgui Lamine Sow was reported as saying in El País' English edition on December 11. The rescue reportedly took place in Denia, a coastal resort town southeast of Valencia and not too far from Benidorm on December 6.
According to El Paìs, Lamine Sow, who is 20 years old, was selling bracelets and necklaces on the streets of Denia at the start of a long weekend to mark the 41st anniversary of the Spanish Constitution. At about 11:30 am “Lamine heard screams not far from where he was standing with his girlfriend and their baby.”
‘Like Spiderman he just scaled the wall’
“[This man just] came out of nowhere. He threw his merchandise on the ground and then, like Spiderman, he climbed the wall,” a neighbor who witnessed the scene told The Local in Spain.
Pictures on facebook show, with the help of a ground floor window grill, Lamine Sow managed to climb his way up to the first floor balcony and in through the open window. In the apartment was 39-year-old Álex Caudeli Webster who was reportedly recovering from a stroke and unable to walk or escape from the fire.
‘He saved my life’
“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,” Caudeli told El País. In a picture printed on El Paìs’ website, Caudeli sits in a wheelchair with a bandage on his nose, ear and left hand. Lamine Sow sits next to him wearing a superman T-shirt over his normal clothes, the T-shirt was reportedly a gift from Caudeli, to say thank you.
“He grabbed me like […] a sack of rice, […] he really took the strain. […] I have a problem in my legs, I suffer from vertigo and I couldn’t hold still,” said Caudeli to El País.
A neighbor who witnessed the scene corroborates the story. She told The Local “He saved [Caudeli’s] life, there is no doubt about that.”
Lamine Sow seems to have downplayed the fuss about the rescue. Reports suggest that he walked away immediately after the rescue “without expecting anything in return.” Lamine Sow told a Valencia local paper, Levante-EMV, that the town where he lives is about 40 km from Denia and there are not many buses. Once he saw that the neighbors would take care of Caudeli, he left to catch his bus.
Reuters reported that he was also afraid that the police might confiscate his merchandise once they arrived at the scene. “If they take them from me, we’re not eating tomorrow,” he told the news agency.
It was only when a reporter from Levante EMV tracked him down a few days later that his actions made headlines.
“I did it without thinking,” Lamine Sow told El País. To Levant-EMV he reportedly said “[In this type of situation] there is no time to be afraid. There was someone inside and he needed to be got out. I did it because my heart told me to do it. I might be poor but I am strong and I can help people. I don’t like seeing people suffer.”
Authorities looking into his case
Now the local authorities in Denia have said they would like to reward Lamine Sow. According to El País, they have asked the central government to grant him residency. The Spanish newspaper Diario Informacion report that his partner and seven-month-old baby already have long-term residency permits. The authorities in Valencia are now looking into the case. El País says that if the request “meets the legal requirements for extraordinary cases, […] Lamine will be granted papers.”
On Thursday, the news agency AFP reported that more than 55,000 people had already signed an online petition asking that Lamine Sow be granted papers and the right to live and work in Spain.
This rescue will remind some people of the case of the Malian immigrant in Paris who also scaled a building in order to save a small child who was dangling from an upper-floor balcony. After reports of his rescue hit the world media, the migrant was decorated by the French President Emanuel Macron and was granted French citizenship. El País reports he has now “fulfilled his dream of becoming a firefighter.”
Dreams for the future
Lamine Sow himself is hoping to become a truck driver “but any job will do.” He told Reuters that being a street vendor is difficult. “There are people who, when I try to show them stuff, they don’t look at me, they won’t talk to me, it’s really difficult to do this job.”
El País said his route to Spain came via Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina, after he left Senegal due to lack of job opportunities. InfoMigrants French reports that he arrived in Spain via a boat from the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. At his time of arrival in August 2017 he was just 17 years old.
According to El País, Lamine Sow met his partner in Madrid where they were sharing a house. They moved to the small town of Gandia when their baby was born, in order to improve their standard of living. Today they are happy and hope to stay in Spain. Lamine Sow told El País “it’s nice here.” InfoMigrants French reported that he added “I would like to be able to get my papers sorted so that I can work here and live with my family.”