PARIS: A Malian migrant who scaled a four-story Paris apartment bloc with his bare hands to save a child was honored by French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday and offered citizenship.
Two days after his daring Spiderman-style rescue — viewed millions of times online — Mamoudou Gassama was received by Macron at the presidential palace.
“You have become an example because millions of people have seen you. It is only right that the nation be grateful,” Macron told the 22-year-old, adding that his immigration status would be “put in order.”
During the meeting, Macron also proposed that Gassama, who received a medal and certificate for bravery, join the French fire service.
“I was not thinking of anything. I went straight up,” the sporty youth, who wore jeans and a short-sleeved patterned shirt, explained.
“Bravo,” Macron replied.
The act of heroism, which was the top news item for most French websites and television channels, comes as French lawmakers debate a controversial bill that would speed up the deportation of economic migrants and failed asylum-seekers.
Gassama has been living illegally in France and working in construction after arriving in the country in September last year following a perilous journey from his homeland to Libya then Italy.
Macron, a centrist, has taken a tough line on economic migrants fleeing poverty rather than refugees escaping war or persecution.
But Gassama’s “exceptional act of heroism” warranted an “exceptional decision,” he said Monday.
Gassama leaped into action Saturday evening on seeing a four-year-old child dangling in mid-air from a balcony half-way up an apartment block in the multi-ethnic 18th district of the French capital.
The video shows him pulling himself up from balcony to balcony as a man on the fourth floor tries to hold on to the child by leaning across from a neighboring balcony.
Firefighters arrived at the scene to find the child, whose parents were not at home, had already been rescued.
A shy figure who was accompanied to the Elysee Palace by his older brother, Gassama said he had acted instinctively.
“I saved the child and then went inside the building and I was shaking,” he told Macron.
Reacting to his awards he said later: “I’m pleased because it’s the first time I’ve received a trophy like that.”