The city of Paris has rewarded a Malian immigrant for his bravery in saving a child last month. But the accolades come as city police razed migrant camps just a few kilometers north, underscoring the broader, polarized question of immigration roiling France — and Europe.
Mamadou Gassama, 22, received Paris’ highest award Monday as Mayor Anne Hidalgo praised him as the city’s and the country’s hero. She nicknamed the Malian immigrant “Spider-Man” for his daring rescue of a 4-year-old dangling from the balcony of a fourth-floor apartment.
That act of bravery has catapulted Gassama from illegal immigrant to French citizen with a budding career as a fireman.
Different fate elsewhere
But as Gassama is showered with praise, critics point to the very different fates facing other undocumented workers.
That includes Ayman Latrousse, a Tunisian immigrant, who saved a mother and her two children from a fire three years ago. Today he may face expulsion. His lawyer is protesting unequal treatment.
And hours before Gassama received his Paris award, hundreds of migrants were evicted from squatter camps a few kilometers away, under the watchful eye of French police.
Afghan Abdoul Kayem said he was glad to be leaving the tent camp. But another migrant cursed France and chose not to board a waiting bus.
Paris Prefect Francois Ravier says the migrants are guaranteed a place to stay thanks to newly built accommodation. They can apply for asylum. Those who do not qualify will be sent home.
Meanwhile, the French senate is debating immigration legislation passed by the lower house. French President Emmanuel Macron’s government says it will streamline asylum claims among other plusses; migrant rights groups criticize it as overly tough and even dangerous.
While the French president says exemplary acts like Gassama’s merit exemplary treatment, Louise Carr of Amnesty International France sees things differently.
“We cannot have these one-off actions where you have got one person compensated for an act of bravery,” Carr said. “There are people sleeping on the street. The refugees that continue coming to France need to be well received.”
Gassama is not the first immigrant awarded French citizenship because of his bravery. Another Malian, Lassana Bathily, was also hailed as a hero and awarded citizenship after helping hostages during a 2015 terrorist attack.