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Illegal Malian Migrant Hailed for Rescuing Child from Paris Balcony

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French President Emmanuel Macron, left, meets with Mamoudou Gassama, 22, from Mali, at the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris, Monday, May, 28, 2018.

A Malian migrant living in France illegally is being dubbed "Spider-Man" and hailed as a hero after scaling a Paris apartment bloc to save a young boy dangling perilously from a fourth-floor balcony.

Mamoudou Gassama, 22, said he saw that the child was in danger in the neighborhood where he went Saturday to watch a football (soccer) match on a restaurant television.

Gassama told VOA's Bambara Service he and his girlfriend had just ordered food when he saw a crowd gather.

"Before we start eating, I saw the crowd outside. Some people were screaming, drivers were honking. I went outside and I saw the kid hanging on the fourth floor," he told VOA. "Thank God I was able to run up there to save him. ... When I started going up, I got more courage to go save him."

After he reached the child, and police pulled them both into a room, "I (started) shaking and couldn’t stand on my feet. I was so shaken for what I did," Gassama said.

Earlier, he told CNN, "I like children. I would have hated to see him getting hurt in front of me. I ran and I looked for solutions to save him, and thank God I scaled the front of the building to the balcony."

Video footage showed Gassama, using just his bare hands, climbing from balcony to balcony. A man on the fourth floor was leaning across another balcony struggling to hold on to the child.

Mamoudou Gassama, 22, from Mali, displayed a certificate of courage and dedication signed by Paris Police Prefect Michel Delpuech as he leaves the presidential Elysee Palace after his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, in Paris, May, 28, 2018.
Mamoudou Gassama, 22, from Mali, displayed a certificate of courage and dedication signed by Paris Police Prefect Michel Delpuech as he leaves the presidential Elysee Palace after his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, in Paris, May, 28, 2018.

Gassama reached the balcony and rescued the boy with one hand.

By the time firefighters arrived, the 4-year-old was safe.

French President Emmanuel Macron thanked the young migrant personally Monday at the Elysee Palace and described him as an "example."

Macron presented to Gassama, who is from the Kayes region of Mali, a medal for bravery and offered him French citizenship, along with a job with the fire department. Gassama told the president that "God helped me" with the rescue.

Gassama said Macron asked him to describe his heroic feat. He said he also asked the French leader for help.

"I told him I left Mali through Burkina Faso, Niger and went through Sahara. Then I arrived in Libya, where I spent some time trying to find my way to Italy," he said. "The first time I tried to take a boat, I was caught by authorities and was put in jail and then deported back to Niger. I tried a second time. Thanks God, I made it to Italy.

"I pray (to) God to help other migrants the same way he helped me. Whoever is migrant, I pray for him to be successful. Those who are in the Sahara desert, may God help them go through. Those who are at sea, may god help them arrive safely," Gassama told VOA.

Macron has supported a bill to tighten France's immigration law. He said there is no disparity between rewarding Gassama for his act of bravery and holding firm on immigration.

Gassama also received accolades from Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. The mayor said on Twitter she had phoned Gassama to thank him for his courageous act.

"He explained to me that he arrived from Mali a few months ago with the dream of making a life for himself here. I replied that his heroic act is an example for all citizens and that the city of Paris will obviously be keen to support him in his efforts to settle in France," Hidalgo said.

News reports said the child's parents were not home at the time of the incident. The mother was out of town, while the child's father was reportedly out shopping. The father was arrested for leaving the boy unattended.

VOA's Bambara and French Service contributed to this report.

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