As It Happens

Migrants shouldn't have to perform death-defying heroics to be treated with dignity: writer

Mamoudou Gassama is undoubtedly a hero, but migrants shouldn't have to go to such lengths in order to have their humanity recognized, says Raphaël Glucksmann.

Mamoudou Gassama — a.k.a Spider-Man — offered French citizenship after scaling building to save dangling child

Gassama's feat went viral on social media, after he scaled four storeys of an apartment in Paris to rescue a four-year-old boy dangling from the balcony.

A Malian man who was offered French citizenship after scaling an apartment building to save a young child dangling from a balcony is a undoubtedly a hero, says writer Raphaël Glucksmann.

But, Glucksmann added, you shouldn't have to do something like that to be treated like a human being. 

French President Emmanuel Macron met Monday with Mamoudou Gassama and vowed the 22-year-old Mali migrant would be rewarded for his bravery with papers to legalize his stay, citizenship if he wants, and a job as a firefighter.

Gassama's feat went viral on social media, where he has been dubbed "Spider-Man" for climbing up four floors, from balcony to balcony, and whisking a four-year-old boy to safety on Saturday night in Paris. 

Glucksmann, editor of Nouveau Magazine Littéraire in France, spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about his article, "Do You Have To Be Hero To Be Treated With Dignity?"

Here is part of that conversation.

When you learned this story, what did you think?

It's pure bravery, an act of heroism. My first reaction was to be impressed like everybody else.

And then I learned this man Mamoudou Gassama was without papers and was a migrant.

Mamoudou Gassama leaves the presidential Elysee Palace after his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. (Thibault Camus/Associated Press)

What does it mean to be an undocumented immigrant in France?

You cannot live without papers. 

Not far from my flat, there are hundreds of migrants — some of them coming from the same country, Mali, as he does — who sleep in the streets and in really horrific conditions, and police [are] chasing them and it's really not life.

Had he been caught [by police] without this whole experience, he would have been deported.

Probably at least he would have been sent to detention facilities and perhaps put into a plane and sent back to Mali.

On the one hand, I am really pleased that everybody is celebrating him, including the president, because he also gave a new light on the migrants.

We speak of them as if they were numbers. And, in fact, they are people with destinies, with sentiment, with humanity.

But on the other side, I don't want this particular destiny and fate that has such a happy ending to make us forget that a lot of Mamoudou Gassamas are lost in our streets, and that our republic, which is supposed to enforce freedom, equality and fraternity, has forgone its principles when it comes to them.

This example of his heroism should be a moment when we start reconsidering the way we treat migrants in general in our country — not only in France, in a country close to you too.

Daring rescue in Paris as migrant saves life of dangling child

5 years ago
Duration 0:27
Man from Mali scales apartment wall to grab child hanging off wall

What sort of emotions is this creating for people?

You have even people from the far-right party, who are putting horrible things on migrants all day long on social networks, who stopped ... at least for one day and shared the global admiration for the guy.

It's great that the president is meeting Mamoudou Gassama and being friendly with them and giving him citizenship. ... It sends a good message to the population.

But at the same time, he's the same president who actually lets many people live the street and sends the police to go after them.

So I don't want him to look like a fantastic, nice, open, cosmopolitan man just for one story, because there are a lot other stories that we could tell.

Macron, left, meets with Mamoudou Gassama, 22, from Mali, at the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris on Monday. (Thibault Camus/Associated Press)

The Front National Party has said they think it's great, that Mr. Gassama should become a citizen, he should get this award. But they said in the same breath [that] everybody else should be sent back.

If we had listened to them, he would have already been on a plane and he would never have saved this kid.

So it's always nice when even fascists say nice things ... but the truth is that if we follow their politics, then he would  never have been on the street at this moment.

He would have been sent away or put to prison because he is a clandestine illegal migrant.

So do you have to be a hero to be treated with dignity in France?

That's my question.

If everybody who comes to our country has to climb four floors and save a baby, you know, to be treated like a human being, then I'm not sure we are true to our history and our alleged universalism. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong.