Neither Civilian nor Soldier: The Unknown Indochinese Worker of World War II

Rights and Freedoms
By Liêm-Khê Luguern

In 1939, 20,000 Indochinese workers were summoned and shipped to France. Under the authority of the Ministry of Labor, they were employed as unskilled workers in factories working for the Ministry of War (in particular, in gunpowder, aircraft, and ammunition factories as was the case in 1914). They were prevented from leaving following the French defeat in June 1940. They could not go back to their homeland because of the Indochina War. It was only when France was liberated 10 years after they had first been called up (between 1948 and 1952) that most of them were repatriated while a thousand of them chose to settle in France. In 1973, those who remained in France could have their years of service to France taken into account and added to their retirement pension. In the late 1980s a support committee for the former Vietnamese workers and infantry soldiers in France was created with the support of intellectuals like Madeleine Rebérioux. Supported by this committee, the former workers requisitioned to serve in France and who had gone back to Vietnam struggled to be granted the same rights as their comrades who had settled down in France in vain until recently.

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