Refugee granted asylum in Italy after foiling armed robbery

He held the robber down and waited for police - even though he thought they were going to deport him

Matt Broomfield
Saturday 23 January 2016 15:59 GMT
Shipwrecked refugees disembark from a rescue vessel as they arrive in Augusta, Italy
Shipwrecked refugees disembark from a rescue vessel as they arrive in Augusta, Italy (AFP/Getty Images)

A would-be refugee who foiled an armed robbery in Italy has been granted political asylum. And, as La Stampa reports, his fearless intervention was even caught on camera.

As he was in the country illegally, the 29-year-old Egyptian risked deportation by waiting for the police to arrive as he restrained a knife-wielding robber at a supermarket in Turin. But his honesty and bravery were rewarded, as Turin police decided not to prosecute him. Instead, he's been granted a year-long work visa, meaning he is free to seek legitimate employment.

CCTV footage shows how the scene played out on 12 January:

The unnamed refugee was waiting in line at a branch of Lidl to pay for his groceries. Ahead of him in the queue was Alfredo Vaira, an unemployed 52--year-old with no previous criminal record. His face partially obscured by sunglasses and a baseball cap, Vaira calmly slipped a 20-centimetre knife out of his pocket.

Vaira then leaned over and asks the cashier to empty the register. Other shoppers were seemingly unaware of the situation, which played out relatively quietly, but the refugee was clearly sizing up the situation.

With €700 hastily stuffed into a plastic bag, the robber began to walk away. But the refugee acted quickly, shoulder-charging and tackling the would-be stick-up artist. He then restrained the criminal until the police arrived.

Not only did he risk his life, but the refugee understood that he was risking his chances of asylum in Italy. "I am aware of the consequences of my actions," he said as the police arrived to take the suspect into custody.

But in the end, the consequences were quite different. Recognising the man's bravery and willingness to engage with the local community in the most literal way possible, the police took him straight to the immigration office at their Turin headquarters, and issued him with a residency permit request on the grounds of political asylum.

Conditions remain harsh in the refugee's home country of Egypt, where armed militias and Islamist gangs often pose a threat to life, particularly in the Sinai peninsula. The economic situation also remains poor, and a small but significant number of refugees (around 10,000) have left the country in search of a better life in Europe.

Many Egyptian refugees travel to Europe after being displaced from Libya, where there were over 1,000,000 Egyptians living and working prior to the eruption of serious political violence and instability.

Serbia: Police meet their match in snowball fight with refugee children

And this wasn't the first time that Italian police have shown a willingness to turn a blind eye to the law in the face of individual heroism. Last year then Sobuj Khalifa, a 32-year-old from Bangladesh who was also in Italy illegally, dived into the river Tiber to save a suicidal woman from drowning.

He was also rewarded with a one-year residency permit, enabling him to find work selling flowers and to send some money home to his sick mother. But even after he became a minor local celebrity and fielded a phonecall from the mayor of Rome, he was still sleeping in a cave underneath a bridge.

“I wasn’t afraid,” he told Corriere at the time. “I swim well and was a fisherman in my home country."

There are around 100,000 refugees currently seeking asylum in Italy.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in