African WWII veterans given French citizenship
France’s President Francois Hollande has given citizenship to 28 Africans who fought for France in the Second World War and other conflicts.
The outgoing president said France owed them “a debt of blood”.
Many of the former servicemen were from Senegal, aged between 78 and 90, received their certificates of citizenship at the Elysee Palace in Paris.
There is an ongoing campaign for the rights of the veterans, long-term French residents, to be recognised.
“France is proud to welcome you, just as you were proud to carry its flag, the flag of freedom,” Hollande said.
More naturalisation ceremonies are expected.
One of those granted citizenship, Mohamed Toure, said it helped to heal some old wounds.
“President Hollande did what none of his predecessors ever imagined. And that repairs a lot of things,” Toure said.
The granddaughter of a Senegalese soldier, Aissatou Seck, who is deputy mayor of a Paris suburb, has been campaigning for African veterans’ rights.
Seck started a petition that gained 40,000 of signatures in less than a week.
According to Seck, while most of the Senegalese troops were sent home after the war, about 1,000 of them still lived in France.
The French called them the “tirailleurs”, meaning “sharpshooters”, in mockery of their poor marksmanship. Many of them were deployed with limited training.
Tirailleurs were largely recruited from French colonies in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal.
Many were forcibly recruited but a number of them volunteered for service.
The 1919 Conscription Law allowed for conscription in peace and wartime and more than a third of Senegalese males of military age were mobilised and sent to France.
In the First World War, more than 170,000 West African soldiers were deployed with 30,000 of them losing their lives. During the Second World War, more than 200,000 African soldiers fought for France, with 25,000 dying.
Until 2010, the veterans received smaller pensions than their French counterparts.
Their ambiguous status also meant they lacked access to other benefits and experienced travel difficulties.
In 1944, numerous West Africans were shot dead by French forces when they mutinied over unequal pay and pensions.
A few years ago, Hollande acknowledged that French soldiers had shot their African colleagues. Many veterans still demand a full apology.
Moroccan troops in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 1954. Picture credit: Flickr