A homeless illegal Bangladeshi immigrant has become the toast of Rome, even receiving an honorary residence permit, after saving an Israeli woman from drowning, the Telegraph reported Friday.
Sobuj Khalifa, 32, told authorities he had been walking along the city’s River Tiber when he noticed something floating by. It took him several moments to realize he was looking at a person.
“I saw a body in the water and at first I thought it was a big fish but then I saw it was a person. I ran along the banks as she was being carried along by the current,” Khalifa told the Telegraph.
“People were watching from a bridge and I yelled, telling them to call for help. Then I dived into the river without even taking off my shoes. I wasn’t afraid. I swim well and was a fisherman in my home country.”
Khalifa managed to pull the unconscious woman out. Police believed the woman, a 55-year-old Israeli living in Rome, had jumped into the river in an attempt to commit suicide.
“The woman had a bloated stomach. She had swallowed water. I didn’t see her again but I knew she survived,” he said.
Khalifa said he had been living in Rome since 2008, but his one-year permit had long-since expired and he eked out a meager existence selling flowers or umbrellas on the streets. He explained that he sent some of the 50 Euros he earned each week to his sick mother in Bangladesh.
Italian authorities have hailed Khalifa’s bravery. The state has bestowed him with a one-year resident’s permit in gratitude for his actions, and Mayor Ignazio Marino has personally thanked him for his “wonderful gesture.”
“I was very moved, I’ve never felt so happy,” he told local media.
However, having no place else to go, Khalifa has since returned to sleep in a cave under one of the capital’s bridges, which serves as his home. Khalifa’s brother Galala, who also lives and works in the city, said he was proud of his brother, and expressed hope that his deed and the attention it had brought would help Sobuj find work and start anew.