A young Egyptian boy, who saved the lives of 50 children when a school bus driver hijacked the vehicle and set it on fire in Italy on Wednesday, could be getting his Italian citizenship, according to Italian news agency Ansa.
The Interior Ministry released a statement saying it would speed up the citizenship acquisition procedure for 13-year-old Ramy Shehatah who was born in Italy in 2005 but has no official Italian citizenship documentation.
“The Interior Ministry is ready to take on the expenses and speed up the procedures to recognize citizenship for the little hero. The hope is to attribute [… ]citizenship to Ramy and remove it from the bus driver,” said a statement from the interior ministry.
When the driver confiscated the students’ phones, in an apparent rampage over migrant drownings in the Mediterranean, Shehatah managed to hide his phone and call his father who then contacted the authorities.
The police rushed to the scene and broke the bus windows to get everyone to safety.
“We would love to stay in this country. When I met him yesterday I hugged him hard,” said Shehata’s father as per Ansa.
“My son did his duty, it would be nice if he got Italian citizenship now,” he added.
Threats over migrant crisis
One of the children told reporters that the driver had threatened to pour petrol over them and set them alight. Police named the driver as Ousseynou Sy, a 47-year-old Italian citizen of Senegalese origin.
“He shouted, ‘Stop the deaths at sea, I’ll carry out a massacre’,” police spokesman Marco Palmieri quoted Sy as telling police after his arrest.
A video posted on Italian news sites showed the driver ramming the bus into cars on a provincial highway before the fire took hold. Children can be seen running away from the vehicle screaming and shouting “escape.”
Palmieri said some children were taken to hospital as a precautionary measure because they had bruises or were in a state of shock, but none suffered serious injuries.
A teacher who was with the middle school children was quoted by Ansa as saying that the driver had said he wanted to get to the runway at Milan’s Linate airport.
An unnamed girl was also quoted as saying that Sy blamed deputy Prime Ministers Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio for the deaths of African migrants at sea.
The United Nations estimates that some 2,297 migrants drowned or went missing in the Mediterranean in 2018 as they tried to reach Europe.
A Libyan security official said on Tuesday that at least 10 migrants died when their boat sank off the Libyan coast near the western town of Sabratha.
The Italian government has closed its ports to charity rescue ships that pick up migrants off the Libyan coast. Salvini says this has helped reduce deaths because far fewer people are now putting to sea.
Human rights groups say deaths might have increased with hardly any boats now searching for the would-be refugees.