The Senegalese skirmishers who fought for France in the last century can now reside in their country of origin all year round, while receiving the minimum French old age.
Until now, the latter had to reside in France at least six months a year. The decision of the French authorities coincides with the release date of Skirmishersa film by Mathieu Vadepied with Omar Sy on the fate of Senegalese skirmishers who fought in the First World War.
War veterans and their families hailed the decision, which follows years of talks with French authorities. Now retired, the Senegalese, Mauritanians and Malians concerned were born under French colonization. Their countries were still under tricolor domination when approximately 220,000 of them were recruited to fight under the French flag during the Second World War, as well as the wars of Indochina and Algeria.
Most of the former territories and colonized countries having gained their independence in the 1960s, the French authorities have since decided: these former soldiers are foreigners – -even if they were born when France ruled their country, and were sent to front for France. Therefore, the obligation to reside in metropolitan France six months a year to receive the minimum old age applied.
At the microphone of Franceinfo, the Senegalese Yoro Diao claimed to have ”served the French army with heart.” But this 91-year-old former soldier who lives six months a year in a room in the Paris region is delighted to return to his country of origin permanently, to end his days with his family.
Skirmishers depicts the treatment suffered by African soldiers
The injustices experienced by the Senegalese tirailleurs who fought for France is the main subject of Tirailleurs.
Omar Sy plays a Senegalese father who volunteers to fight in a French uniform after his son was forcibly recruited by the French army in 1917. The duo are sent to the hell of the trenches, where racism and xenophobia render their condition even harsher than that of their French brothers in arms.
Like them, 200,000 were sent to the front in 1914-1918. A French exception, while no other European power recruited soldiers from their colonies on such a scale during the Great War.
Until the process of decolonization all Africans fighting under the French flag were called Senegalese Tirailleurs, because this is how the first regiment of African Tirailleurs was named, created under Napoleon III.
the racism endured by the latter is not lacking in examples: sent to the front line; ”Black Shame”, German propaganda from the interwar period, accusing black men of sexual crimes, having given rise to numerous humiliations and abuses; the Thiaroye massacre, where dozens of Senegalese were murdered by the French army in 1944 for demanding payment of their war indemnity.
France was not, however, the only one to recruit among its colonies: at the beginning of the 19th century, the Netherlands created the Royal Army of the Netherlands Indies, better known under the name of KNIL. The largest colonial empire in Europe, Great Britain, for its part recruited soldiers in Nepal from 1816 and the end of the Anglo-Nepalese war. They are known as Gurkhas, and still fight for the British today, despite the end of the colonial empire.
Like the Senegalese skirmishers, the Gurkhas fought for the same rights as their British counterparts. Despite some victories in the 2010s, negotiations are still ongoing over their retirement pensions.
The recent historic decision for the Senegalese skirmishers illustrates this unequal treatment suffered by the soldiers of the former European colonies – the same as that denounced in Skirmishers. For the moment, the decision concerns 20 of the 40 African veterans still alive. The rest of the files should be approved soon.