French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday with a migrant from Mali lauded as a hero for scaling an apartment building to save a young child dangling from a balcony.
Macron said 22-year-old Mamoudou Gassama would be rewarded for his “exceptional act” with papers to legalize his stay, citizenship if he wants and a job as a firefighter.
“Bravo,” Macron said to Gassama during a one-on-one meeting in a gilded room of the presidential Elysee Palace that ended with the awarding of a medal from the prefecture for “courage and devotion.”
“I’m pleased because it’s the first time I’ve received a trophy like that,” Gassama, who arrived in France in September last year, said after receiving his medal.
Gassama’s feat went viral on social media, where he has been dubbed “Spiderman” for climbing up five floors, from balcony to balcony on Saturday night, and pulling a four-year-old boy to safety as a crowd screamed at the foot of the building in Paris’ northern 18th district.
The young man said he has papers to legally stay in Italy, where he arrived in Europe after crossing the Mediterranean after a long, rough stay in Libya, but he wanted to join his older brother, who has lived in France for decades.
Gassama, dressed in blue jeans and white shirt, recounted his experience which took place at about 8pm on Saturday when he and friends saw a young child hanging from a fifth-floor balcony.
“I ran. I crossed the street to save him,” he told Macron during a filmed portion of the meeting.
He said he did not think twice.
“When I started to climb, it gave me courage to keep climbing,” he said.
God “helped me,” too, he said. “Thank God I saved him.”
Gassama felt fear only when he took the child into the apartment.
“I was trembling,” he told Macron.
“Because this is an exceptional act ... we are obviously, today, going to regularize all your papers,” Macron told him. “If you wish, we will start nationalization procedures so you can become French.”
Gassama told Macron that he arrived in Italy in 2014 after more than a year in Libya, where he was arrested and beaten, “but I wasn’t discouraged.”
Macron is toughening France’s approach to immigration, and said that not all who make the treacherous journey to Europe can be welcomed, but that Gassama’s actions were admirable.
“You saved a child. Without you, no one knows what would have become of him,” he said. “You need courage and the capability to do that.”
Working as a firefighter corresponds with his skills, Macron said, and opened the door for him to join.
“You have become an example because millions have seen you” on social media, Macron said.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo had also lauded Gassama for his “act of bravery” as well as telephoning him personally to “thank him warmly.”
According to initial inquiries by the authorities, the child’s parents were not at home at the time. The father was held for questioning by police for having left his child unattended.
Additional reporting by AFP
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