“The baby was freezing”: The dramatic rescue from Ceuta

“The baby was freezing”
The dramatic rescue from Ceuta

By Nadja Kriewald, Ceuta

The photo went around the world in May: A rescue diver from the Spanish Guardia Civil saves a baby from drowning, whose mother wanted to flee with him to the enclave of Ceuta. A meeting a month later.

Little Jawaher is still tiny. She sleeps calmly, wrapped in a pink blanket, in her mother’s arms. She does not yet know that the photo of her dramatic rescue went around the world. The only thing that matters for her mother is that the little one survived the dangerous escape to Ceuta.

It’s May 18th. The first migrants arrive on the beach in Ceuta – swimming. The security forces in the Spanish exclave are taken by surprise. The news has spread like wildfire. The border is open, it is said. More and more Africans are coming, most of them are Moroccans, like Naima Bakkali, Jawaher’s mother.

“I’ve wanted to go to Ceuta for a long time, I’ve just been waiting for an opportunity,” says Naima. “When I heard that you could cross the border, I packed up my two boys and the baby and then we went to the beach.”

Naima Bakkali with her children in Ceuta.

(Photo: ntv)

She cannot reach her husband, who comes later. The two boys are supposed to swim and she ties the baby on her back herself. Jawaher is only four weeks old by then. But the mother of three is desperate and plunges into the sea with the other migrants and swims. “At some point I realized that I couldn’t anymore,” says Naima and continues: “I had no more strength. It was so cold and I was scared for my baby. I screamed for help, someone threw me a life preserver . But I couldn’t go on. “

The waves are strong and the Spanish security forces are trying to push the refugees back, to persuade them to turn back. But it is clear that many cannot do it. Naima fights and screams. A civil Guard rescue diver, Juan Francisco Valle, sees them. He later told Spanish media that he thought the woman had a backpack on her back, then he saw that it was a child. “The baby was freezing cold and completely pale,” says Valle. He didn’t know if it was still alive. The photo of the rescue goes around the world.

Naima is infinitely grateful to the diver. She didn’t realize it was that dangerous. She didn’t want to risk her children’s lives, she says. But she and her husband saw no other solution. Before Corona, the family was doing well, says the 30-year-old. They lived in Tetouan, Morocco. They bought goods tax-free in Ceuta, brought them to Morocco and sold them there at a higher price. “Contrebande” they call it here – smuggling. But then came the pandemic. And the limit has been closed for months.

Naima pulls her hijab closer around her face and speaks more softly. “We have no more money. We cannot find work in Morocco. That will not change after Corona either.” She cries: “I just want to live somewhere where we can earn money and where my children can go to school. Where we can live peacefully.”

The family has applied for asylum. You now live in a reception center. Most of the ten thousand or so migrants who came to Ceuta in mid-May were deported. Naima doesn’t know if she and her family can stay. But she doesn’t regret fleeing to Spain for a second.