Refugee advocates noted the contrast in the treatment of Mr Gassama, who had been living in France illegally, and other asylum-seekers.
Refugee advocates noted the contrast in the treatment of Mr Gassama, who had been living in France illegally, and other asylum-seekers.

French ‘Spiderman’ a hero, but there’s a problem

THE family of the young boy saved by an immigrant while hanging from a Paris balcony has praised the toddler's rescuer as a "hero".

Mamoudou Gassama, the 22-year-old Malian "Spiderman", took his first step toward French citizenship on Tuesday and joined the fire brigade as accolades continued to pour in over his daring rescue.

Video footage of Mr Gassama scaling four storeys of the building with his bare hands on Saturday catapulted the young man to global fame, and earned him the promise of citizenship from President Emmanuel Macron.

Wearing white sweatpants and a black cap, the hero of a rescue video viewed by millions appeared slightly overwhelmed by the media furore as he filed his application for legal residency in the Paris suburb of Bobigny.

Mamoudou Gassama scaled a Paris apartment building to save a child dangling from a balcony, and video of the rescue went viral. Picture: AP
Mamoudou Gassama scaled a Paris apartment building to save a child dangling from a balcony, and video of the rescue went viral. Picture: AP

Hailing the bravery of the youth who had been living in France illegally, the head of the local authority, Pierre-Andre Durand said: "How can anyone fail to be impressed by what he did, not admire it?

"He helped someone in danger, which is not such a common thing in our society."

On Monday, Mr Gassama was honoured by Mr Macron with a medal for bravery, the promise of citizenship and the offer of a job with the fire service.

But critics raised an issue. Mr Gassama arrived in France via Italy and the perilous Mediterranean migrant route. His official permit allowing him to work will arrive within a month, and his citizenship papers in about three months, officials said on Tuesday.

The athletic Malian visited a fire station to sign up for a 10-month internship with the Paris fire and rescue services, expected to pay close to $920 a month.

Meanwhile, politicians in France are debating a controversial bill that would speed up the deportation of economic migrants and failed asylum-seekers, thousands of whom live in squalid camps in the capital.

"There's a bit of hypocrisy or cynicism," added Claire Rodier from the GISTI association, which supports immigrants. She noted a dramatic contrast between the treatment of Mr Gassama and "the repressive policy of this government against migrants and those without documents."

The rescued boy's paternal grandmother told RMC radio she was "very moved" by the images of the rescue and sent "huge thanks" to Mr Gassama.

"He's really a hero," she said. "He did not stand by and watch, he saved my little sweetpea."

The boy's father, who had been living alone with him in Paris, had left him alone to go out to the shops and then remained on the street to play Pokemon Go, according to French investigators. He was arrested on charges of neglecting his parental duties but released again on Monday.

The Paris prosecutor's office said he had admitted his guilt and expressed "profound regret".

The boy's mother learned the news of the rescue on Reunion Island - the French Indian Ocean territory where she and the father were born and where she still lives.

"We can only thank him and thank heaven he was so reactive," she told Antenne Reunion radio, adding that she was impatient to be reunited with her son and husband.

"Things could have turned out much worse, so I am relieved."

Mr Gassama told Mr Macron during a visit on Monday that he "did not think twice" before springing into action.


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