Mamoudou Gassama, a 22-year old migrant from Mali, has become an internet sensation after spontaneously scaling an apartment building in Paris to save a dangling child, The New York Times reports.
"I did it because it was a child," French newspaper Le Parisien quoted Gassama as saying. "I climbed .... Thank God I saved him."
Gassama added that he was shaking after the experience and could hardly stand up.
The 4-year old boy that Gassama saved has been placed in child services after his father was charged with negligence.
After video of the act began circulating online, French President Emmanuel Macron met with Gassama to praise him and award him citizenship.
"We'll obviously be setting all your papers straight and if you wish it, we will start the process of naturalization so that you can become French," Macron told Gassama.
Avec M. GASSAMA qui a sauvé samedi la vie d’un enfant en escaladant 4 étages à mains nues. Je lui ai annoncé qu’en reconnaissance de cet acte héroïque il allait être régularisé dans les plus brefs délais, et que la brigade des sapeurs-pompiers de Paris était prête à l’accueillir. Je l’ai également invité à déposer une demande de naturalisation. Car la France est une volonté, et M. GASSAMA a démontré avec engagement qu’il l’avait ! - With Mr Gassama who saved a child’s life on Saturday by climbing 4 floors with his bare hands. I told him that in recognition of his heroic act he would have his papers in order as quickly as possible and that the Paris fire brigade would be keen to welcome him to their ranks. I also invited him to submit a naturalization request because France is built on desire and Mr Gassama’s commitment clearly showed that he has that desire!
Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, tweeted that the “heroic act is an example for all citizens and that the city of Paris will obviously be keen to support him in his efforts to settle in France.”
#MamoudouGassama est un héros. L'annonce de sa régularisation est un beau signal de ce que la France sait faire en matière d'accueil. Cette belle histoire rappelle celle de #LassanaBathily et nous rappelle que l'héroïsme n'a pas de frontière. #RTLMidi— Anne Hidalgo (@Anne_Hidalgo) May 28, 2018
Gassama was then offered a job with the Paris fire brigade, according to CNN.
The sudden cascade of honors, opportunities, and legal rights was a result of the selfless and acrobatic act that earned Gassama the nickname “Spider-Man” on social media. But what if the event hadn’t been filmed, or if Gassama hadn’t coincidentally been at the scene of the crisis?
The situation has put a spotlight on the the hundreds of thousands of other migrants who are awaiting legal recognition in France, many of whom, like Gassama, arrived in the country after risking their lives while traversing the Mediterranean Sea.
Of course, saving a child isn’t the only path to citizenship in France, but Gassama’s story comes at a time of increasingly hostile policies toward migrants in the country, according to French news outlet The Local.
In February, for example, Macron signed a streamlined deportation process into law. The new measure doubles the amount of time for which migrants can be detained, and halves how long they have to challenge a deportation order, according to The Local.
The program is meant to deal with backlogs to the system, but it also reflects an overly punitive approach.
France received more than 100,000 requests for asylum in 2017, and this year the country is expected to receive around 200,000 more applications, according to France 24.
That’s on top of the existing applications from previous years, when migration to Europe began surging from both conflict-troubled and economically struggling countries.
Many of these migrants live in bare-bones shelters and work illegally in often dangerous conditions because of the difficult process of obtaining papers, according to InfoMigrants, a news outlet for migrants.
One of the most notorious examples of the challenges faced by migrants may be a former camp in Calais known as “the Jungle” that authorities tore down in 2016, evicting more than 7,000 people in the process. Residents of the Jungle had no running water, no electricity, and no toilets.
Hundreds of children who had lived in the Jungle remain stranded. Other camps in and near Paris are in similarly dismal states.
In fact, Gassama’s good deed happened as French authorities made plans to evacuate more than 2,500 migrants from a camp along Paris’ canals.
While certainly heroic, Gassama's story raises important questions about the state of migrants and refugees in France and around the world.
“If Gassama had not heroically saved a toddler, he might very well have spent the rest of his days being harassed and detained by the cops," Steven Poole wrote for the Guardian. "His experience underscores how hard it is for people like him to gain acceptance in French society. Macron’s attitude, indeed, sends the message that you can only become French if you do something so extraordinary that the vast majority of French people would never even attempt it.”
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