Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Le Pen tours Italy immigrant centre

Leader of the French far right party National Front, Marine Le Pen, has visited an illegal migrant centre in Italy (AP)

Protesters have heckled French hard-right leader Marine Le Pen as she toured a centre for illegal migrants on Italy's most southerly island of Lampedusa.

Despite her party's anti-immigrant politics, Ms Le Pen insisted before her arrival that the visit was aimed at gathering information, not at provocation.

Ms Le Pen, 42, is campaigning for next year's French presidential race and has been trying to soften the party's xenophobic image.

Her visit came as five new boats laden with migrants headed to the island refuge.

Most of the 8,700 north Africans who have arrived there since unrest in Tunisia started in January say they want to go to France, where many have family.

As she toured the centre, housing 900 illegal migrants, about a dozen protesters gathered outside brandishing signs in French and Italian with such slogans as "Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood, even for those without documents."

"Madame Le Pen is a xenophobe, racist and neo-Fascist, and we don't want her here," said Giacomo Sterlazzo, one of the protesters.

The island's mayor, however, was more welcoming, saying the emergency facing Lampedusa needed a European response.

"She is coming here to understand what is happening here. As far as racial hatred is concerned, everyone has his own personal style. Her father has his. She has hers. I am not going to judge her as a racist," said Bernardino De Rubeis.

Arrivals in Lampedusa are sent onward to centres throughout southern Italy. During their stay in Lampedusa, each is given three meals and 10 cigarettes a day, plus a phone card to make calls.