PARIS (AP) — A far-right lawmaker in France was criticized Thursday after he responded to a Black lawmaker’s question about migrants stranded at sea by apparently saying, “Let them return to Africa.”
Gregoire de Fournas of the National Rally party made the comment in the National Assembly. The president of the lower house of the French Parliament, Yaël Braun-Pivet, subsequently suspended the legislative session.
De Fournas spoke while Carlos Martens Bilongo of the leftist France Unbowed party was challenging French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist 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 helping the migrants have appealed to the French government to take them in or help find a solution. The French authorities have not yet responded.
Braun-Pivet said the comment in parliament would be investigated on Friday.
National Rally has a reputation for strong anti-immigrant rhetoric. Party spokesman Victor Chabert said de Fournas was referring to migrants at sea in his Africa remark and not, as some in French media wondered, to his fellow lawmaker. Some claimed that Fournas had only said “return to Africa” because the beginning of his sentence was muffled.
Fournas since sent Martens Bilongo an email to try to defuse tensions.
Reacting to the event, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said that “racism has no place in our democracy.”
She said the chamber “will have to take sanctions” over de Fournas’ remark without elaborating what those might be.
National Rally’s leader, Marine Le Pen, lost her second bid for the French presidency to Macron in April.