African migrants hit it big in Spain's El Gordo Christmas lottery
Published 24/12/2015 | 12:36
About 35 African migrants, including at least one rescued at sea from an overcrowded wooden boat, are among the top prize winners of Spain's Christmas lottery, according to the agency that sold more than 1,000 tickets that shelled out 400,000 euro (£293,600) each.
The winners who bought the tickets in the southern coastal city of Roquetas de Mar included migrants from Senegal, Mali and Morocco, agency owner Jose Martin told La Voz de Almeria newspaper.
Among them was a Senegalese man named Ngame who told Spanish media that he and his wife were rescued by Spain's coast guard in 2007 when their boat with about 65 people aboard was travelling from Africa's western coast towards Spain's Canary Islands.
Outside the lottery agency, Ngame was in tears as he clutched a photocopy of his winning ticket with the number 79,140. He thanked Spain for saving his life and giving him the chance to play the country's world-famous lottery.
"Today I thank the Spanish government, the Spaniards too," Ngame told Ondacero radio. "They saved us when we were in the middle of the sea."
Roquetas de Mar is in Almeria province, where many migrants toil in greenhouses as vegetable and fruit labourers. The area also relies heavily on tourism but unemployment is 31% - much higher than the already sky-high national rate of 21%.
Ngame did not give his last name to reporters but said life has been difficult for him and his wife since they arrived in Almeria. They had not decided how they would use the jackpot.
"I'm not sure," he said. "It's too soon to decide. We have to talk and see."
Mr Martin said some of the migrants were not sure how they could collect their winnings so he accompanied them to their bank branches to explain to them what to do.
Though other lotteries offer larger top prizes, Spain's El Gordo (The Fat One) is the world's richest. It unites the country because almost everyone takes part.
There are 24 million prizes in all for the country with a population of 47 million - and players in droves form pools with friends, family and colleagues to buy the 20-euro (£14.67) tickets.