Migrants become Greek citizens after rescuing others from wildfires

The July blaze killed 100 people, but may were saved thanks to the trio's actions.

FILE In this Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018 file photo people swim at a beach in Rafina, east of Athens, ten days after the Greece's deadliest wildfire in decades that killed 100 people. Three migrant fishermen have been awarded Greek citizenship after rescuing scores of people forced into the sea by a major wildfire outside Athens that left 100 people dead last summer. Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos hosted the ceremony Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019 for Gani Xheka from Albania and Egyptians Emad El Khaimi and Mahmoud Ibrahim Musa. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis, file)

Three migrant fishermen received Greek citizenship Wednesday for helping rescue dozens of people who were forced into the sea by flames from a summer wildfire that caused 100 deaths.

Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos hosted a ceremony for Gani Xheka, 35, from Albania and Egyptians Emad El Khaimi, 50, and Mahmoud Ibrahim Musa, 46, both to honour them and for "sending a message to Europe" to counter anti-immigrant sentiment.


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The three men pulled people from the water who had fled the out-of-control wildfire at the seaside resort of Mati, east of Athens, by swimming out to sea while having difficulty breathing because of heavy smoke. The trio also guided survivors to a nearby port after the July 23 blaze reached the shore and gutted hundreds of homes.

"In a situation like that, when you are talking about people's lives, there's no religion, no black people, no white people. You just have to help people who are in danger," Mr El Khaimi said after the ceremony.

The death toll from Greece's worst wildfire in decades included victims who drowned after seeking safety in the sea, as well as people who were trapped inside their homes or along narrow roads.

The decision to grant the three men citizenship was published in Greece's official government gazette December 21 but formally announced Wednesday.

"The three foreign nationals, displaying self-sacrifice and ignoring the dangers, joined Greek fishermen and saved dozens of our fellow citizens, including many children whose lives were at risk," the decision said. "Their self-denial and the exceptional contribution ... warrant the application of legal provisions for honorary naturalisation."

Interior Minister Alexis Charistis, who attended the ceremony, said the "human values" the fishermen displayed are ones people "must hold dear because unfortunately, there has been a reappearance in Greece and in Europe of voices of racism and hatred.