Mr. Macron said in his statement that the Paris firefighters were “eager to welcome” Mr. Gassama into their ranks. He added that he had “invited” Mr. Gassama to apply for French citizenship, “because France is built on desire, and Mr. Gassama’s commitment clearly showed that he has that desire.”
Still, the rescue came amid a tightening of France’s immigration policy, and the French president was quick to clarify that Mr. Gassama was an exception, not the rule. Mr. Macron defeated the anti-immigration far-right leader Marine Le Pen in presidential elections last year, but immigration is still a deeply divisive issue.
A sprawling migrant camp near the northern city of Calais was dismantled in 2016, but hundreds of Afghans, Eritreans and Ethiopians continue to gather there in hopes of reaching Britain. In Paris, makeshift encampments of migrants under bridges and in parks are regularly evacuated by the police, only to grow again.
Mr. Macron has taken a tough approach. Parliament has been discussing a draft law put forward by the French government that restricts the rights of asylum seekers, a measure that has drawn fierce criticism from human rights groups.
Mr. Macron has said repeatedly that France could welcome only those with legitimate grounds for asylum, a point he reiterated in his meeting with Mr. Gassama, according to Agence France-Presse.
“When they are in danger, we give asylum, but not for economic reasons,” Mr. Macron said of immigrants, according to the news agency. “But in your case, you did something exceptional.”
“An exceptional act does not make a policy,” Mr. Macron later told journalists at the Élysée, the news agency reported.