Mamoudou Gassama, the 22-year-old Malian hailed as a hero in France for saving a child hanging from a balcony, has been granted legal immigration status and has joined the French fire brigade.
Gassama has been celebrated in France and Mali after a video went viral showing him scaling several storeys of a Paris building to save a four-year-old boy who had already dropped one floor and was dangling from a balcony railing by his fingertips.
After Gassama’s immigration papers were fast-tracked on Tuesday morning, he visited a fire station to sign up for a 10-month internship with the fire and rescue services, which is expected to pay around €600 (£525) a month. He will receive French citizenship within around three months.
Gassama left Mali as a teenager and travelled via Libya – where he was arrested and beaten – and by a perilous boat journey to the Italian coast. He spent four years in Italy before arriving in France in September to join his brother.
Without legal documents in France, he had been sleeping on the floor of a residence for migrants in Montreuil, outside Paris, rolling out a thin mattress each night and packing it up in the morning, sharing a cramped room with six others and unable to work legally.
Patrice Bessac, the Montreuil mayor, praised Gassama’s bravery and promised to rehouse him, saying: “I’m proud to see migrants being seen as enriching our society.”
Praise has been unanimous for Gassama, who has been given the nickname “Le Spider-Man”. But after the French president, Emmanuel Macron, invited him to the Elysée Palace on Monday and awarded him a medal for “bravery and devotion”, charities working with migrants accused the government of using the case as a PR opportunity to mask its immigration clampdown.
Charities argued that the government should also be helping the thousands of migrants living in squalid conditions with no help from the state.
“There’s a bit of hypocrisy or cynicism,” Claire Rodier of GISTI, which supports immigrants, told Agence France-Presse. She said there was a contrast between the treatment of Gassama and “the repressive policy of this government against migrants and those without documents”.
Other charities accused Macron of “shamelessly” exploiting the case. Benjamin Griveaux, a government spokesman, responded: “Those who accuse us of opportunism would have been shouting if we did nothing.”
MPs are currently debating a proposed new immigration law that would speed up the deportation of economic migrants and refused asylum-seekers.
In northern Paris alone, more than 2,000 migrants and refugees are sleeping rough under motorway bridges and along canals, in what doctors have said are “catastrophic sanitary conditions”.