By RAPHAEL VASSALLO
By RAPHAEL VASSALLO
France has paid tribute to Ashish Tekleab Haile, the 32-year-old man who lost life while rescuing a drowning French tourist at Paradise Bay on Wednesday.
Commenting to MaltaToday, the French ambassador to Malta praised Ashih's heroic effort, and said that he will pay his formal respects to the 'hero refugee' today.
"This story is a sad one with a truely touching end," Ambassador Daniel Rondeau told MaltaToday, adding that he was personally Ashih is remembered by colleagues as a cheerful and positive man, a hard worker, and above all as a friend.
“We are all deeply shocked by his death,” said Stanley Zammit, one of the directors at Paradise Bay Hotel, where Ashih (nicknamed ‘Ashish’ among the staff) worked as a beach attendant. “We have lost not only a colleague but also a friend.”
Zammit remembers his Eritrean colleague well. “We originally hired him as a painter last year, when we were building new rooms at the hotel. His contract expired in November, but we recommended him to other hotels and he was quickly re-employed. By the end of February, he was back in our employment, this time as a beach boy.”
Ashih’s wife Selemawit Hagus Belay, whom he met and married in Sudan in 2006, is also employed at Paradise Bay hotel.
Even before being hailed a hero for his life-saving actions this week, Zammit points out that Ashih had already settled down and integrated with an ease that often eludes others in similar situations. In less than two years, it seems he had progressed through all stages of dependency on the local asylum system.
“He had only recently bought a car,” Zammit recalls, adding that the young family had also moved out of their previous accommodation in an open centre, and were sharing a rented apartment in Bugibba.
Regarding the accident itself, Zammit specifies that it actually took place at some distance from where Ashih was working. The Frenchman found himself in difficulties in Paradise Bay, while Ashih was at the time stationed at the pool area on the other side on the peninsula, facing the Cirkewwa ferry.
“He heard someone calling out, and without thinking he went rushing to help,” Zammit recalls. “It doesn’t surprise me. It was exactly the sort of thing he would do.”
It transpires that this was not the first time Ashih had been involved in life-saving incidents at sea… though sadly it will certainly be the last. Like so many other asylum seekers, Ashish found the crossing from North Africa in October 2009 to be a dangerous affair.
“Halfway through the trip to Malta, the boat he was on started to fall apart,” Zammit recounts. “When the engine came unstuck, Ashih was one of the men on board who manually kept it in place using his own and other passengers’ T-shirts, tied together to form a rope.”
They were able to keep the boat from disintegrating long enough for the entire boatload to be rescued by the AFM.
Meanwhile. tributes to Ashih Tekleab Haile continued to pour in all day yesterday. The Emigrants’ Commission offered condolences to Ashih’s family.
“France, which had shown so much sympathy with refugees in Malta, should be proud that one of its citizens was saved by a refugee,” ther Commission said in a statement yesterday.
In another statement, the Nationalist Party said that Ashih’s noble gesture will remain imprinted in the hearts of all Maltese.
The Labour Party called for Ashih Tekleab Haile to be posthumously appointed to the National Order of Merit.