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French far-right MP's 'go back to Africa' cry causes uproar

November 3, 2022

A far-right MP shouted "go back to Africa!" as a Black lawmaker spoke about stranded migrants. The member of the anti-immigration National Rally party said he was referring to the migrants and not his fellow MP.

French far-right MP Gregoire de Fournas stands in a session of questions to the government at the French National Assembly in Paris, on July 26, 2022.
French far-right MP de Fournas caused an uproar in parliament with what was dubbed a 'racist slurImage: picture alliance/dpa/MAXPPP

A far-right French parliamentarian stirred up controversy on Thursday after shouting, "Go back to Africa!" while a lawmaker from the left wing was addressing the issue of a stranded migrant boat in the National Assembly. 

Far-right MP Gregoire de Fournas later denied he was addressing leftist Carlos Martens Bilongo, saying the outburst was directed at migrants stranded on a rescue ship. In French, the words "he" and "they" are pronounced identically.

Bilongo was challenging the government over its approach to the people on the stranded rescue boat. The vessel is carrying hundreds of passengers in the Mediterranean Sea and NGOs have urged the French government to intervene with a solution.

Bilongo reportedly responded to de Fournas saying, "No way."

Building up pride to fight racism

He later described de Fournas' comment as "shameful."

"Today, I was sent back to my skin color. I was born in France. I am a French deputy," he said.

Parliament Speaker Yael Braun-Pivet asked who had spoken out the phrase, before suspending the session. She said the comment would be investigated on Friday.

How did France's politicians react?

France's centrist government and its left-wing alliance both condemned de Fournas' comments.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told reporters that the Bureau of the National Assembly would reconvene on Friday to agree on the appropriate sanction.

"There is no room for racism in our democracy," she said.

Stephane Sejourne, the leader of President Emmanuel Macron's centrist party, meanwhile, said the 37-year-old should resign. The left-wing Nupes alliance called for his expulsion.

"The National Rally has shown its true face today," the alliance said in a statement. "This racist slur is characteristic of the far-right: stigmatize according to the color of your skin, divide the French people."

French far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) leader Marine Le Pen speaks with a woman after casting her vote in the second stage of French parliamentary elections at a polling station at Henin-Beaumont, northern France on June 19, 2022.
Le Pen and her RN party are know for their anti-immigration tendenciesImage: DENIS CHARLET/AFP

De Fournas is a member of Marine Le Pen's anti-immigration National Rally (RN), the second largest majority in parliament. Both the party and Le Pen argued that he did no wrong and his words were misconstrued.

"The controversy created by our political opponents ... will not deceive the French," Le Pen wrote on Twitter. She argued that de Fournas' words were aimed "obviously" at the migrants and not Bilongo.

Le Pen has lost presidential runoff elections to incumbent president Macron twice consecutively, most recently last April.

Her RN party has historically been accused of espousing racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Islam policies, particularly when it was led by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen. Although in recent years, Marie Le Pen has sought to somewhat soften her party's hardline image over immigration in a bid to woo more voters.

rmt/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters)