RIVESALTES, France — The barracks, with caved-in roofs and crumbling walls blackened by humidity and spray-painted with graffiti, sit in a ghostly silence, interrupted only by the distant drone of cars.
Here on a flat expanse of the southwestern region of Perpignan, near the border with Spain, the skeletal ruins are all that is left of the internment camp at Rivesaltes, where for decades successive waves of refugees and others persecuted in wars were once held by the French state.
The former wards read like a who’s who of mid-20th-century tragedies: Spaniards displaced by civil war in the late 1930s; Jews and Gypsies fleeing the Nazi regime during World War II; Algerians escaping their homeland in the 1960s after fighting on France’s side during a bitter decolonization war.
Yet for years, the history of Rivesaltes was not well known, and it took a scandal — the discovery of original archives from the camp in a nearby garbage dump in 1997 — to return it to public consciousness.
The site has since been turned into a memorial, which opened in October, at a time when the darker chapters of France’s history echo in the hardships of the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers who have descended on Europe over the last year.
Inaugurating the memorial, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, the son of a Catalan immigrant, said the site would now “say loud and clear what for too long was quietly whispered” about France’s shunting aside and callous treatment of the desperate and displaced.
Yet if France has finally chosen to remember the many thousands who once languished in Rivesaltes, its contemporary debate about whether and how to embrace today’s migrants shows how much of that history remains unresolved.
Pour lire la suite : http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/21/world/europe/memorial-for-frances-undesirables-echoes-debate-over-migrants.html