Le Pen Wants Boat People Sent Back Home to Stem Migrant Flows

Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, gestures as she speaks during an interview in Paris, France, on Tuesday, June 23, 2015. Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

Turning away the boatloads of Europe-bound migrants back to Africa would end the flow of illegal immigrants in “weeks,” said Marine Le Pen, a leading candidate in France’s 2017 presidential election.

“We must rescue the people so that they don’t die but we must take them back to their port of departure,” Le Pen said in an interview at the headquarters of her party, the National Front, on the outskirts of Paris. “Once we have done that for several weeks in a row, no one will pay to risk their life crossing the Mediterranean.”

Polls show that Le Pen could make the second round of the French 2017 presidential elections. The 46-year-old has sought to make the National Front, or the FN as it’s known, more respectable, trying to transform it from a protest party tinged with racism and Holocaust denial. She, however, remains true to the party’s anti-immigrant principles.

Her comments come as Syria’s civil war, Libya’s disintegration and turmoil in parts of eastern Africa have pushed migration to Europe to levels not seen since the early 1990s, with 185,000 refugees gaining asylum in the 28-nation European Union in 2014. In Italy alone, 60,000 migrants have arrived by sea this year, with many of them then traveling north to other EU countries, according to figures from the UN.

On June 22, the EU agreed to increase naval patrols in the Mediterranean to help stem the flow. The Italian and other European navies who rescue migrants and bring them to Sicily are “accomplices” of the traffickers who organize the transit, Le Pen said.

France’s generous welfare state is what attracts them, she said.

“No longer welcome”

“If migrants come to our country now, it’s because France is one of the most attractive countries -- it offers accommodation, food, schooling, healthcare, for free,” she said. “We no longer have the resources. We have to send a strong signal: we can no longer welcome you, we no longer have the means, we have 7 million jobless and 9 million poor people, so it’s over.”

While polls show Le Pen making the second round of the presidential election, she would lose the run-off to any likely opponent such as President Francois Hollande, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, former Prime Minister Alain Juppe or former President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sarkozy has upped his own rhetoric against migrants, saying last week that illegal immigration was like a water leak spreading to every room of a family home. Hollande said in response that politicians would need to “exercise restraint.”

Sarkozy has also called for renegotiating the Schengen accords that allow passport-free travel between 22 European countries, while Le Pen calls for it to be simply scrapped.

“We must regain control of our border,” she said. “That’s one element of people’s freedom: choosing who can come to your homeland, who can stay in your homeland and what conditions you set to welcome them.”

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