A French parliament session was thrown into turmoil after a far-right legislator was accused of yelling “back to Africa” to a Black colleague who asked a question on migrant arrivals.
Parliament member Carlos Martens Bilongo of the leftist France Unbowed party was questioning the government over a maritime rescue boat that is carrying hundreds of passengers in the Mediterranean Sea, and has not received an assigned port to bring them to.
Charities have appealed to the French government to take them in or help find a solution.
Bilongo was interrupted by Gregoire de Fournas, a newly elected member of the far-right, anti-immigration National Rally (RN), who said: “They should go back to Africa.”
The President of the lower house of the French parliament Yaël Braun-Pivet subsequently suspended the legislative session, later saying the comment would be investigated.
Sickening and worrying. A French far-right MP yelled at NUPES MP Carlos Martens Bilongo to "return to Africa". The Assembly was shocked. The session was suspended. pic.twitter.com/xh9DnlcyLF
— Rim-Sarah Alouane (@RimSarah) November 3, 2022
The comment sparked criticism and condemnation as it was alleged de Fournas may have directly targeted Bilongo with his words, as in the French language the pronouns “he” and “they” are pronounced the same.
De Fournas defended his comment and accused opponents of “manipulation”, and his party also denied any personal attack on Bilongo. De Fournas later apologised to Bilongo for “the misunderstanding my comments caused”.
He “obviously spoke about the migrants transported in boats by the NGOs”, National Rally leader Marine Le Pen tweeted. “The controversy created by our political opponents … will not deceive the French.”
However, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne urged the assembly to sanction the far-right MP saying, “racism has no place in our democracy”.
Bilongo called the comment “shameful”.
“Today I was sent back to my skin colour. I was born in France. I am a French deputy,” he said.
Stephane Sejourne, who leads President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party, said de Fournas should resign, and the left-wing Nupes alliance said he should be expelled.
A parliamentary committee will meet Friday to discuss the incident, which could see de Fournas punished with a temporary exclusion from the assembly.
Macron’s centrist Renaissance party will refuse to attend further sessions unless the council issues a “heavy penalty”, its vice president in parliament Sylvain Maillard said on Twitter.
In this year’s presidential election, Le Pen challenged Macron which resulted in her party’s best-ever performance in elections, winning 89 seats for MPs.
Over the years, Le Pen has made significant progress in detoxifying her party’s image and convincing voters the party founded by her father Jean-Marie, who was convicted several times of incitement to racial hatred, has moved towards the conservative mainstream and is now fit to govern.