Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, known for his hardline approach on migrants, has said that a 13-year-old Egyptian boy who saved 51 children from a bus hijacking last week will be granted Italian citizenship, referring to the teenager as his "son."
Ramy Shehata was the first to alert authorities after he and 51 other children were kidnapped when an Italian driver of Senegalese descent hijacked their bus near Milan and set it on fire, in an apparent protest against migrant drownings in the Mediterranean.
Shehata hid his phone and called emergency services after the hijacker confiscated the phones of the other students. Police then rushed to the scene and broke the bus windows to get the passengers to safety. Shehata was hailed in Italian media as a "hero."
“Yes to citizenship for Ramy, because... he showed that he understood the values of this country,” said Salvini, who is also Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister, as quoted by Italy's news agency ANSA.
According to Italy's citizenship law, foreigners born in Italy are eligible to apply for citizenship after they turn 18.
But Salvini said that "with acts of skill or bravery, laws can be overcome," according to ANSA.
Salvini is the engineer of Italy's hardline policies to control an influx of migrants from across the Mediterranean, estimated at 650,000 boat migrants since 2014. Salvini has ordered the closure of all ports to boats carrying rescued migrants, leading new arrivals to Italy to significantly plummet since he took office.
Salvini had said that background checks on Shehata's father should be conducted first before considering citizenship for his son, but other ministers have said that Ramy should be granted citizenship anyway.
Shehata was born in Italy but has never been granted official citizenship documents, his father told ANSA.
"My son did his duty, it would be nice if he receives Italian citizenship now," the father, Khaled Shehata, said. "We would love to stay in this country.”
Police spokesman Marco Palmieri said that during the standoff, the driver shouted: “Stop the deaths at sea, I’ll carry out a massacre.” He was apparently referring to the deaths of African migrants at sea while trying to reach Europe.
According to the United Nations, some 2,297 migrants drowned or went missing in the Mediterranean in 2018.