More than 1,800 people have backed a call for Spanish officials to regularise the immigration status of an undocumented Senegalese man after his second rescue of a stranger from drowning in the main river in Bilbao.
Mouhammad Diouf was out with a friend on Sunday afternoon when he spotted a man who appeared to be feeling dizzy on one of the city’s bridges. “He was trying to grab on to the rail when he fell into the water,” Diouf told the Guardian. “We were quite far away. I threw down my rucksack and went running.”
When he arrived at the bridge, the 26-year-old saw that the man, 72, had landed face down in the water. “He 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 the strong currents as bystanders called out instructions and encouragement. Two other Senegalese people and a plainclothes police officer then jumped in to help, and the group was able to pull the man to safety on a passing boat after about 20 minutes in the water.
It was not the first time Diouf had rescued someone from the River Nervión, which divides Bilbao. In September he jumped into the same river in the early hours of the morning after spotting a young woman who had fallen in, he said. The rescue was again caught on video, with footage showing Diouf pulling the woman out of the water using a flotation device thrown to him by police.
As the video of his most recent rescue racked up views on social media, where many people contrasted the migrants’ actions with the anti-immigrant rhetoric spouted by the country’s far right, a local group launched an online petition calling for Diouf’s status to be regularised.
“We want Mouhamed [sic] Diouf to be granted the papers that will allow him to continue his life in our country legally and comfortably, without fear of being detained and deported,” read the petition, launched by the group Wolof for Women Who Love Senegal. Wolof is the most commonly spoken language in Senegal.
The move is not without precedent: last year, under public pressure, the Spanish government provided residence and a work permit to a Senegalese migrant who pulled a wheelchair user from a burning, second-storey flat 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 on Spanish shores in a dinghy, said he was touched by the petition. Between odd jobs he had been taking courses in trades such as welding in the hope of finding a position that would allow him to apply for Spanish residency.
“If it works out, that’s great,” he said. “But what I did, it came from my heart. Not for any other reason.”