The French internment camp that symbolizes the shameful fate of refugees

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Between 1941 and 1964, a total of 60,000 people were interned in a camp at Rivesaltes in south-west France, close to the border with Spain. The successive waves of internees included Spanish Republican refugees, Jews and Roma during the German occupation of France in World War II, and later Algerian Harki soldiers and their families who had sided with French forces during their country’s bitter war of independence. On Friday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls inaugurated a major memorial centre at the notorious camp and which highlights widespread political hypocrisy in face of the current refugee crisis. Nicolas Chevassus-au-Louis reports on the history of the camp and its belated memorial centre, a project of 17 years in the making.

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On the French side of the Catalan plain, to the east of the Pyrenees, a land baked by the sun in summer and buffeted for most of the year by the dry, northern Tramontane wind, stood an internment camp that represented many of the horrors of the 20th century, including those committed on French soil. Home to some 600,000 people from 1941 to 1964, Rivesaltes Camp held first Spaniards who had fled General Franco's regime at the end of the Spanish Civil War, then Jews and gypsies incarcerated by the Vichy regime, and finally Harkis who had fled Algeria after 1962, when the country won its independence from France, its former colonial master.