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France’s African Retired Soldiers Win Last Battle Over Pensions

Frances African retired soldiers win last battle over pensions

 

After a French government U-turn on their pension rights, some of the last survivors in France of a colonial-era infantry corps that recruited tens of thousands of African soldiers to fight in French wars around the world will be able to live out their final days with family members back in Africa.

On Wednesday, the decision to make claiming their pensions easier was confirmed.

It follows a years-long campaign on behalf of the “tirailleurs Sénégalais,” who were recruited to fight from Senegal and other former French ruled nations in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the government’s Solidarity Ministry, the pension decision affects only 22 of the former soldiers who receive a monthly payment of 950 euros (US$1,000).

They will no longer be required to spend six months of the year in France to be eligible, and will continue to receive pension payments even if they move away permanently, according to the ministry.

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The decision, based on the “principle of tolerance,” will be formalized in a government letter to be published in the coming days.

One last fight

Before being disbanded in the early 1960s, tens of thousands of African recruits served in tirailleur regiments, colonial wars, both World Wars, and France’s Vietnam and Algeria wars.

“After many years of fighting, we have finally won,” campaigner Assata Seck tweeted. “The former tirailleurs will be able to live out their lives in their home countries.”

Her grandfather was a “tirailleur” as well.

Veterans from the infantry corps founded in 1857 and disbanded a century later had to spend at least six months of the year in France to be eligible for French pensions.

That rule separated ageing former combatants from their families in Africa and some died alone, away from loved ones, says Aïssata Seck, who campaigns for them. Her grandfather was also a “tirailleur.”

“It was extremely painful for the families and for us,” Seck said in a telephone interview Wednesday (Jan. 04) with The Associated Press. “They live for the most part in extremely different circumstances in France, away from their families.”

According to Seck, 37 former tirailleurs are known to live in France, the majority of whom were recruited to fight from Senegal, as well as Mali, Mauritania, and Guinea.

The youngest is 90 years old, and a dozen of them live in separate rooms in a home in the Paris suburb of Bondy, where Seck is an elected official. They worked as tirailleurs during the independence wars in Vietnam and Algeria, she explained.

Overdue decision

In Senegal, the head of the National Office for Veterans and Victims of War said the decision was overdue.

“For a long time veterans have asked to return with their pensions but were not successful. This decision will relieve them. These veterans live alone in their homes, they are not accompanied, they live in extremely difficult conditions,” said the official, Capt. Ngor Sarr.

Sarr, 85, served in the French military in Algeria and Mauritania before relocating to France in 1993 to receive his pension. He claimed to have misplaced it when he returned to Senegal 20 years later.

Others argued that the decision was made too late.

“Many soldiers died, they didn’t get this opportunity despite the role they played in liberating France,” said Mamadou Lamine Thiam. His father also fought in Algeria and died in 2015, aged 85.

The annoucement coincides with the cinema release in France of a movie highlighting the sacrifices made by African soldiers on bloody French battlefields in World War I. “Tirailleurs” [Editor’s note: Father and Son in English] features actor Omar Sy, a star of the “Jurassic World” franchise.

 

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Written by How Africa News

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