France’s National Assembly briefly descended into chaos after an MP shouted “They should go back to Africa!”
A session of the French parliament was suspended on Thursday after a legislator was accused of hurling a “racist” insult at a fellow MP during a debate on migration.
The incident took place when Carlos Martens Bilongo, an MP from the left-wing La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party whose parents are of Congolese and Angolan origin, was delivering a speech on behalf of an NGO that aids migrants arriving in Europe. He asked the government to help find a port for the 234 people recently rescued at sea.
Gregoire de Fournas, a newly elected legislator from the conservative National Rally (RN) party, interrupted the speech by shouting: “They should go back to Africa!”
The heckle immediately led to an uproar, with several other MPs angrily yelling at de Fournas, after which the speaker, Yael Braun-Privet, suspended the session.
According to France 24 news channel, it could be believed that de Fournas was addressing Bilongo directly, because in French, the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘they’ are pronounced the same.
Many politicians condemned the conservative MP, whose party is known for its anti-migrant stance. “Racism has no place in our democracy,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said.
Bilongo also accused de Fournas of racism. “Today in the parliament chamber, he insulted me personally. He insulted millions of French people who look like me,” he told France Info radio.
De Fournas denied that he insulted Bilongo and accused his party of “manipulation.”
“They are trying to distort my words, to make me look as if I was making disgusting comments towards a fellow MP who has the same legitimacy to sit in these benches as I do,” he told reporters, adding that he was specifically calling for migrants who cross the Mediterranean Sea by boat to be returned home rather than be allowed to land in France.
The RN, formerly known as the National Front and led by Marine Le Pen between 2011 and 2021, won 89 seats in the country’s 577-seat National Assembly in June, marking the biggest victory in the party’s history.
In April, Le Pen lost to Emmanuel Macron in a presidential runoff election, receiving 41.45% of the votes to 58.55%.