The heroic act of scaling a building to rescue a small boy has “earned” Mamoudou Gassama, a Malian undocumented migrant in France, his French citizenship. Gassama is an illustration of the extraordinary measures Africans need to take to attain official papers in Europe
Mamoudou Gassama, a Malian migrant who has now been christened the “Malian Spiderman” for executing a daring rescue to save a child from a balcony in Paris, is now officially a French citizen. The video of the extraordinary incident shows Gassama leaping precariously from balcony to balcony four floors up to snatch the child away from danger and what would have been a fatal fall.
When describing events to President Macron, Gassama said, “I didn’t have time to think, I ran across the road to go and save him… I just climbed up and thank God, God helped me. The more I climbed, the more I had the courage to climb up higher, that’s it.”
Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, praised the 22-year-old’s heroism and said she had called him to thank him. She referred to him as the “Spiderman of the 18th”, in reference to the district where the rescue took place, and an “example for all citizens”.
To honour him, Gassama was invited to Élysée Palace by President Macron, where he was not only ensured a fast-tracked citizenship but also given a medal for his act of “bravery and devotion”, signed by the police prefect, who declared the French Republic’s gratitude as well as a job with the Paris sapeurs pompiers, the city’s fire and emergency service.
Gassama is part of a handful of undocumented migrants in France whose status has been elevated for performing acts of public service or showing “exceptional talent”. Among these is Lassana Bathily, also from Mali, who in 2015 gained asylum for helping six hostages, including a baby, in a terrorist attack at the Hyper-Cacher supermarket. After six years of struggling to acquire legal residency in France, his heroism achieved the same fete within two weeks when President François Hollande presented him with a medal and a French passport.
Nevertheless, these shining examples of heroism have not shifted attitudes on migration in the least. The deputy president of the far-right Front National, Nicolas Bay, espoused the country’s stance on migrants and residency. Bay told France 2 television, “If you tell me, we’ll make that one official because of his act of bravery and we’ll expel all the others’, I’ll sign up for that,” Bay told France 2 television.
The French documentary maker and commentator Raphaël Glucksmann summed it all up best on his Facebook page: “Like everyone else, I admire the bravery of Mamoudou Gassama. But I dream of a country where it won’t be necessary to put one’s own life at risk scaling a building to save the life of a child in order to be treated like a human being when one is a migrant.”