A couple of weeks ago, the name Mamoudou Gassama meant nothing. The Malian migrant, living undocumented in France, had survived the treacherous journey via boat to Europe and was struggling along with his fellow immigrants to start a life there. Now, however, the name Gassama carries great importance’ he is being heralded as a hero and been nicknamed the ‘Spiderman of the 18th’.
Many of you will have watched the video of Gassama rescuing a boy from the fourth storey of a building, and many others will have at least heard of him. His actions are undeniably not only heroic but also remarkable. As a reward, Gassama has been granted, by none other than Mr Macron himself, French citizenship and the position in the fire department.
This bias and discrimination means that in order to live in France you must prove your worth, which undermines and destroys the innate understanding that a person’s worth is their life not their abilities.
There is no doubt in my mind that this is well deserved, and I admire and applaud Gassama for his heroism, but in a country like France which already has such strict immigration laws, and threatens to increase their severity still, is it fair to award citizenship to one brave but ultimately lucky illegal immigrant?
Mr Gassama should have, along with many others like him, been subjected to a life in France which involved dodging immigration officials, poverty, unemployment and discrimination. However, Gassama got lucky. He got lucky because he was in the right place at the right time, he was physically able to scale a wall and the feat was filmed and publicised. His bravery is commendable, but without these contextual factors it is likely his heroism would have been overlooked.
It begs many questions, such as how many other acts of migrant heroism have been unnoticed and therefore not praised? How many other immigrants would have done the same thing had they been there at the time? If no-one had filmed the act would he still be deemed ‘unworthy’ despite his heroism? The bar that France has set is so impossibly high that it not only strips away the value and identity of immigrants as people, but also now seems to ask that they risk their lives publicly to prove their worth.
I fail to support the notion of selecting the people that are allowed into a country. This bias and discrimination means that in order to live in France you must prove your worth, which undermines and destroys the innate understanding that a person’s worth is their life not their abilities. If someone like Gassama, manages to capture the world as an audience to their act of heroism, are they much better and more worthy than another?
Additionally, the praise and celebrity awarded to Mr Gassama could have dangerous implications. In the desperation and suffering of many of France’s ‘sans-papiers’, Gassama could become somewhat of a role-model. His actions could thus influence many young individuals to risk their own lives in order to achieve the same outcome.
While Mr Macron has stated that Gassama’s reward is not a policy but an exception, who is to say which act will warrant the next exception? Should this become a trend, many other immigrants may not be as lucky as Gassama in more ways than one. The way in which France treats many of its immigrants is deplorable, and praising the few who are lucky and brave is unfair and dangerous.