Mamoudou Gassama, who had entered France illegally, became a national hero last week when he scaled a building to save a dangling toddler. His reward was to be granted French nationality and offered a job as a firefighter.
For Aymen Latrous, a 25-year-old from Tunisia who also entered France illegally, that story is bittersweet: Two years ago he saved two children from a fire yet he’s now facing deportation.
On Tuesday and after two days of intense media coverage highlighting the contrast between the two cases, authorities have decided to rescind the Order to Leave the French Territory (OQTF) they made against Aymen.
For Philippine Parastastis, Aymen’s lawyer, the move is “only partially satisfactory.”
“My client remains in an irregular situation. He doesn’t have a residence permit and can still be arrested if controlled.”
“We have two situations which are perfectly identical and yet the judicial responses have been completely contradictory,” she told Euronews.
Aymen and two of his friends were walking in the evening of April 10, 2015, when they heard a woman yelling for help, screaming “My children! My Children!” Her kitchen, on the first floor of an apartment block in Fosses, in the Val d’Oise, just north of Paris, was on fire.
Without pausing for thought, the three friends rushed in. Ayman grabbed a 19-month-old boy, his friend Johnny carried Leon, 4, and their companion doused the fire. They then discreetly exited the scene.
“I had just arrived in France so I was scared of being arrested,” Aymen told Euronews.
But the grateful mother launched an appeal to find the three men to personally thank them. They were then also rewarded with a medal celebrating their “act of bravery” delivered by the town mayor.
“I was happy because of the ceremony at the town hall where they gave me a medal,” Aymen said.
“Afterwards I told the mayor about my situation and he asked me if I wanted something. I said no. He asked me if I had papers (that would make him a legal immigrant), I replied that I didn’t and he promised he would help.”
The mayor did appeal to state authorities, vouching for Aymen’s character, but on January 30, Aymen’s application to become a citizen was rejected and he was ordered to leave the country.
His lawyer has called on French President Emmanuel Macron to meet with them, so he could “explain how to rank acts of bravery.”
“Are we to think that saving a baby by scaling a building is more heroic than braving flames to save two children? How unlucky it was not filmed!,” she added.
For Aymen, “Becoming French would be an honour,' he said to Euronews.
“I just want to work and build a life here,” he said.