The French anti-immigration leader Marine Le Pen has called for the children of illegal migrants to be denied free education in France.
She told a conference in Paris that foreigners coming to France could not expect to have free schooling for their children.
“I’ve got nothing against foreigners but I say to them: if you come to our country, don’t expect that you will be taken care of… and that your children will be educated for free,” she said. “That’s finished now, it’s the end of playtime.”
Le Pen later clarified her comments, saying she did not mean all foreigners, only those in France illegally.
“I consider that free and compulsory education for the children of illegal immigrant parents is a suction pump for immigration which must be stopped and I’m thinking of putting into place a waiting period before foreigners who come to work in our country can access certain public services or social welfare,” she told reporters during a walkabout at a a Christmas market on the Champs Elysées.
In a scathing condemnation, France’s Socialist education minister said free education was an absolute right, accusing Le Pen of total indifference to the “terrible plight” of young children.
Another leading socialist called the comments an “enormous provocation”, and they were condemned as “barbarian” by far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and as “shameful” by the former head of the employers’ federation Medef.
The Front National leader has campaigned for severe restrictions on immigration. Her 2012 presidential election manifesto called for entries into the country to be cut to 10,000 a year.
Her sights are now set on next spring’s presidential election, where she is likely to face a serious challenge from the newly anointed Conservative contender Francois Fillon.
He has also vowed to cut immigration to a “strict minimum”.