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Algeria: The longing for closure by families of the Harkis

rivesaltes memorial for Harkis   -  
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There is a small story in the great history of the Algerian war that is not often spoken about, because it concerns the harkis, and the unease still surrounds their fate, but also because it is about newborns, who died in anonymity. This is the tragedy of the Rivesaltes camp.

Hacène Arfi, is a son of one of the Harkis and president of the Harka coordination.

"We took a bath towel, my father rolled it up, the soldiers gave him a pickaxe and then we left, I think we didn't have to walk a kilometer or 800 meters,but we went to a field and my father dug a hole, ... my father made prayers and we buried it."

During the Algerian War, some Algerians enlisted to fight on the side of France. Considered traitors in Algeria, more than 91,000 harkis found refuge in France after independence. Many were housed in the Rivesaltes camp, in barracks or in tents. During the winter, which is very harsh, without heating, dozens of young children die of cold.

Hacène Arfi is looking for these missing babies, like many descendants of the harkis. Today, the families are asking for their graves to be found, but there is little hope.

"We've been telling them for thirty years that there are children who w ere buried in the fields, and it's been thirty years that when we talk, it goes in one ear and out the other. They don't hear us'' says Arfi.

Another son of an Harkis, Rachid Bedjghit is longing for closure.

"I would like to give him a decent burial. Even symbolically, the family, dig a hole, give him a burial even if we don't have the bones, but at least give him a decent burial, as he deserves. That's the only thing I would want"  Bedjghit an educator at the judicial protection of youth said.

For Fatima Besnaci-Lancou, historian and specialist in the Algerian War, the graves may never be found. "In my opinion we will never find all the bodies. I am convinced of that. In addition, the camp of Rivesaltes, part of it has been sold, there is an industrial zone, and there is also the whole of block F, which serves as a memorial. No, we'll never find it."

In September 2021, Emmanuel Macron asked for "forgiveness" from the harkis, Muslim fighters enlisted with the French army who were later "abandoned" by France. A "reparation" bill was introduced earlier this year, 60 years after the end of the war. but the wounds remain open

(( The Harkis -- served as auxiliaries in the French army in the war that pitted Algerian independence fighters against their French colonial masters from 1954 to 1962.))

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