Mamoudou Gassama’s bravery was rightly rewarded, but President Macron’s comments only perpetuate anti-immigrant rhetoric

If anything were guaranteed to salve a bruised faith in human nature, it is the video of the dramatic rescue of a baby in Paris on Saturday. Mamoudou Gassama, a 22-year-old “sans papiers”, or undocumented migrant, from Mali, saw a lone toddler dangling from a fourth-floor balcony in the 18th arrondissement, and scampered up the outside of the building to save him, while onlookers cheered. The exploit made him famous as the “Spider-Man of the 18th”, and yesterday he went to the Elysée Palace to meet Emmanuel Macron. Awarding Gassama a medal for bravery, the president told him he would be immediately naturalised as a French citizen, and given a job with the Paris firefighters.

Macron, however, himself highlighted the contrast with France’s usual policy towards migrants. “We can’t just give papers to everyone who comes from Mali, from Burkina,” Le Parisien reported Macron as telling Gassama. “We’ll grant them asylum if they’re in danger, but not for economic reasons. But you did something exceptional. Even if you didn’t think about it, it’s an act of bravery and strength that has drawn everyone’s admiration.” It’s hard to say if Macron really intended the tone of patrician condescension to the noble savage from the former colony, but he made his general point very clear in the press conference afterwards: “An exceptional act doesn’t change politics.”

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