With the settlers returning from Algeria
Although the end of the colonial era had already brought ship-loads of people to Marseille – 2,000 French people from Indochina between 1954 and 1960, 10,000 Egyptians following the Suez crisis in 1956, 45,000 from Morocco between 1956 and 1957 and 90,000 from Tunisia in 1956 – the end of the war in Algeria set off a flow of a totally different scale. From 1960 many Europeans had been fleeing the conflict, but the rise in tension meant there were even more. On March 18th 1962 the Evian Agreement was signed, Algeria won its independence. While the war seemed to be over, the OAS (the Organisation armée secrète, created in 1961 and fighting to keep Algeria French) did everything it could to make the Agreement impossible to implement. Their policy of terrorism, already intense, redoubled its violence. The European population of Algeria wavered in a genuine nightmare, rhythmed by explosions, murders, threats behind which was the spectre of a civil war. While the Evian Agreements wanted coexistence between the different communities in Algeria, it seemed impossible to achieve. The French nationals in Algeria were in a difficult position, on the one hand the OAS threatened them, using violence to hinder their departure, on the other they feared FLN reprisals after independence if they stayed. Their choice has been summed up in a cruel metaphor: between "a suitcase and a coffin". On June 16th an agreement was signed ordering an end to the bomb attacks, but the wave of re-patriation had started anyway. On July 1st more than 99% of Algeria's voters voted Yes in the referendum on independence, accepted by General de Gaulle on July 3rd.
During this troubled period, between March and July 1962, there was a massive exodus of the French from Algeria: 16,000 in May, nearly 100,000 in June. Marseille, where the ships and aeroplanes arrived, was their natural destination. On average the town welcomed 3,000 refugees a day over the four month period. The high point was on June 25th when 10,000 people arrived in Provence. These French nationals, born in Algeria, often relatively poor, lived this journey not as a return but as a tearing away: to the pain of having left behind almost all their possessions (including of course all their land) was added the sloppiness of the French immigration authorities. In fact the authorities had been hoping the French presence would remain in North Africa and had failed to prepare for the return of these "rapatriés" (returnees), the word used at the time to mean the French who had left French territory after political events and whose status was settled by the law of December 26th 1961.
It was only in 1961 that a secretary of state for the rapatriés was created, dependent on a regional delegation in Marseille. As well as this lack of political preparation, the massive and sudden character of this exodus caught the French authorities off their guard. Although Marseille had been envisaged as the port of entry, the decision to settle permanently in the town, taken by the majority, was surprising (50% of the returnees in June and 74% in July-August). Arrangements for receiving them were made, but by June they were overrun. Although the repatriated civil servants were quickly taken to other regions where work was found for them, the others stayed in Marseille, creating tension and bad-feeling in the employment market. Rents rocketed with this massive wave of people desperate for a roof over their heads. The administration opened council flats for them and by the autumn of 1962 more than 23,00 people were living in the council blocks at Bompard and 60,000 in la Rougière. The fierce competition for housing, the number of workers without jobs, increased the tensions with people already living and working in Marseille. The fear and upheaval before leaving, added to the humiliating conditions on their arrival and the difficulties of the first months have forged painful memories in these shipwrecked persons during the summer of 1962.
Jean-Jacques Jordi, De l'exode à l'exil : rapatriés et pieds-noirs en France : l'exemple marseillais, 1954-1992, Paris, L'Harmattan, 1993.
Jean-Jacques Jordi 1962, l’arrivée des Pieds-noirs, Paris, Autrement, 1995.
Émile Temime, Migrance. Histoire des migrations à Marseille, 4 tomes, Marseille, Jeanne Laffitte, 2007.
Emile Temime, Jean-Jacques Jordi (dir), Marseille et le choc des décolonisations, Aix-en-Provence, Edisud, 1996.
Benjamin Stora, Histoire de la guerre d'Algérie (1954-1962), Paris, La Découverte, coll Repères, 2004.