Lassana Bathily, age 24, a practising Muslim, is from a small village in northwest Mali. In 2006 he arrived in France, where his father was already living. He enrolled in a vocational school and qualified as a tiler.
Now the supermarket worker is a household name in France, yet he is modest about his recent heroics.
When his workplace in the Vincennes district of Paris was attacked on 9th January, and heavily armed gunman Amedy Coulibaly fatally shot Jewish customers and held others hostage in an act of terrorism, Bathily took six customers into hiding in a basement cold storage room and then slipped out to inform the police.
He said in an interview on French television: “It could be a Christian, an atheist or a Muslim, if I see a bad person killing, it hurts me. I didn’t just do it for the Jews. It’s simply inhuman. You can’t let an innocent person be killed.”
Bathily started out in France illegally. He managed not to be deported in 2009 when his school spoke up for him. Two years later, he was given a work permit. He’s had the supermarket job for four years. He applied for French nationality last July.
“I like this country because even if you have nothing, even if you don’t have your papers, don’t have money, they help you. It’s a great country. I really like France.”
Bathily might have waited a long time before his wish was granted.
Under increasingly restrictive immigration policy put in place by France’s previous President Sarkozy, the number of naturalisations roughly halved after 2010. President Hollande’s Socialist government, from 2012 began to change application handling.
Rights lobby France Terre d’Asile in 2013 said that immigrants only waited longer in Luxembourg and Switzerland, and that in France they waited an average of 14 years to be naturalised.