Malian migrant, Mamoudou Gassama, is being hailed as a hero for rescuing a young boy hanging off a balcony in Paris. In a video documenting his bravery, the 22-year-old can be seen climbing four stories and hoisting the boy up to safety.
Gassama said that he saw a crowd gathering outside the building and rushed to help. “I just didn’t have time to think, I ran across the road to go and save him.”
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, commended him, calling him “Spiderman of the 18th” referring to the district in which the event took place. He also met with President Macron at Elysée Palace, who promised him French citizenship, offered him a place in the fire brigade, and gave him a medal for his courage.
Gassama was undocumented and had only been in Paris for 6 months. He arrived in France last year, after crossing the Sahara desert through Burkina Faso. Having traveled across the Mediterranean to Italy, Gassama left because he did not know anyone there, so he went to Paris where his brother was staying. In Paris, Gassama was living in a hostel and working at cash-in-hand building sites. He had not applied for asylum.
The boy was crying when Gassama saved him. He also had injured his foot.
“I just climbed up and thank God, God helped me. The more I climbed the more I had the courage to climb up higher, that’s it,” he added.
Local authorities say that the boy’s parents were not at home at the time. The father was questioned on the suspicion of leaving his child unattended. His mother was not in Paris.
The boy had recently moved in with his father from Réunion. He actually lived on the 6th floor, meaning that the boy fell two stories before managing to hang on to the balcony of the 4th. The boy’s mother told Antenne Reunion that the father was not used to taking care of the boy on his own and said that he had left the boy home alone before.
“I can’t justify what my husband did. People will say it could have happened to anyone and it has happened to other people. My son was just lucky,” she said.
The boy’s family thanked Gassama for saving him.
“He’s truly a hero,” said the boy’s grandmother. “Thankfully he [Gassama] knew how to climb, because there were a lot of people below but he didn’t just fold his arms. He raced up to the fourth floor. That was truly incredible. He was very brave.”
Gassama is not the first Malian hero in Paris. On Monday he met with Lassana Bathily, who had saved six hostages and a baby on January 15th in 2015. Bathily wrote a book about this in 2016, Je Ne Suis Pas Un Héro (I am not a Hero), and created a charity to provide irrigation to his home village back in Mali. Both men are painting Malian immigrants in a good light in Paris, but struggle to deal with their newfound fame.
“He asked me about my experience and what I went through during the attack to get some advice,” Mr Bathily told BFMTV. “We weren’t in it for anything but afterward everyone was interested in us.”
“He reacted like a human being. He didn’t think it would become a media event.”
Mali’s population is 12 million and the diaspora is estimated to consist of 3 million people. Remittances provide a third of the country’s GDP at an estimated amount of $3 billion per year. The high population of Malian immigrants in Europe can be partly attributed to the Sokinke tradition, the tribe to which Gassama belongs. It is a rite of passage towards manhood to travel.