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 honor them and for "sending a message to Europe" to counter anti-immigrant sentiment.
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," 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 Dec. 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 naturalization."
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."
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