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A Camp for Foreigners and “Aliens”

The Harkis' Exile at the Rivesaltes Camp (1962–1964)

Jeannette E. Miller

The French government placed 20,000 of the approximately 100,000 harkis repatriated to France following the Algerian War in the Rivesaltes camp. Located in rural French Catalonia, it had previously lodged foreigners and French citizens whom the government removed from society. The decision to house the harkis in this camp, made during summer 1962 as the French government extricated itself from its 132-year empire in Algeria, symbolized that they were aliens: Berber and Arab repatriates, nearly all of whom obtained French nationality shortly after they arrived in France, were targeted by government housing policies that distanced them from public view. The camp's architecture, living conditions, isolation from French citizens, military oversight, and “reeducation” classes, beyond functioning as powerful symbols, reinforced—and contributed to—the government's treatment of the harkis as aliens. Over the twenty-seven months it remained open, Rivesaltes fostered an exilic existence for these harkis and socially excluded them from French society.