A French parliamentary session was in turmoil on Thursday after a far-right lawmaker was accused of yelling racist remarks at a black colleague who asked a question about immigrants’ access to the government.
The incident came as President Emmanuel Macron’s government vowed a new crackdown on immigration, amid accusations it failed to stop newcomers or deport those whose applications for residency were rejected.
Carlos Martins Bilongo, of the left-wing France Unbowed (LFI) party, questioned the government about a request by the NGO SOS Mediterranee to help Paris find a port for 234 migrants rescued at sea in recent days.
“They should go back to Africa!” Gregoire de Fornas, the newly elected member of the far-right anti-immigration rally Nacional (RN), interrupted as Bilongo made his point.
The outburst provoked cries of condemnation, not least because the pronouns “ele” and “ela” are pronounced in similar tones in French, suggesting that Furnas may have aimed directly at Bilongo and yelled “go back to Africa,” rather than the common interpretation, “They should go back to Africa.”
National Assembly Speaker Yael Brown-Bevit adjourned the session after asking who made the comment.
Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne responded: “Racism has no place in our democracy” and called on Parliament to punish the far-right MP.
De Fournas later defended his comment, telling BFM TV that the National Assembly wanted to stop all illegal immigration after the number of people trying to cross France from Africa has increased in recent years.
He accused his opponents in Unboyed France of “manipulation”, and his party denied any personal attack on Bilongo, a professor born in Paris.