This article is posted following a vote in the French National Assembly officially recognizing the deportation of children from Reunion, a French overseas département. The original article, Enfants de la Creuse. Devoir de mémoire tardif au Parlement, appears today in the French daily newspaper, L’Humanité [link]. Hasty translation is mine. To note is that resistance to these deportations was quite active, as illustrated below.
France must recognize its responsibility for the deportation of the children of Reunion from their island between 1963 and 1982, without their consent and ordered by the State, in an effort to repopulate rural départements.
In 2002, thanks to a lawsuit served up against the State, the French for the first time heard mention of “the children of Creuse”. These children were defined as “wards of the State” at the time, and weren’t in fact from Creuse but from Reunion. The government of Michel Debré, under the auspices of the Bureau de développement des migrations dans les outre-mers (BUMIDOM)—The Office of Development of Overseas Migration—had decided to bring them to the Hexagon between 1963 and 1982, rupturing any link they had to the island of their birth: destroyed archives; “misplaced” or limited correspondence, etc.
In 2002, the lawsuit was rejected, the courts stating that the statute of limitations had passed. Today, on the occasion of the resolution up for vote presented by the Socialist deputy from Reunion, Ericka Bareigts, the National Assembly has the opportunity to bring justice to more than 1600 deported Reunioners.
Michel Debré’s idea was simplistic: Reunion island suffered from overpopulation, whereas the rural départements were losing their populations; why not transfer children from Reunion to Creuse, as well as Lozère or even Cantal? It was thus decided to displace minors, putting them in the safeguard of farming families [Note: where they often worked as indentured servants].
Now many questions might be asked at this point: Were they really wards of the State? In the proposed resolution, we read: “It would seem to be impossible to be assured of the validity of parental consent as concerns the abandonment of these children”. How was it possible that such a politik could go on for 19 years, despite the fact that the government agencies concerned criticized or condemned it many times over? For example, The Agency for Social Affairs in Creuse in 1968 because the children had intense difficulties in adapting themselves to their new lives; or even the Executive Director of the Bureau of Health in 1975, who pointed out the illusion of thinking it might be possible to solve the population problem of Creuse with several hundred children.
In its effort to bring to light this period in French history, the proposed resolution defines three measures to be put into effect. It demands “that the historic awareness of this affair need be expanded and mediated”; “that the State admit it failed in its moral responsibility toward these supposed ‘wards'”; and “that all efforts be made to permit these former wards to reconstitute their personal histories”.
The article includes a documentary made on one such “ward”, William Cally, entitled A Child in Exile. There is also a debate among several such “wards” who managed to return to Reunion [link].