From French Muslims to Foreigners: Welfare Services and Algerian Families in France, 1954-1966

Amelia H. Lyons,
University of California, Irvine

January tenth 2003

The years of bloody warfare that ended French rule in Algeria in 1962 and the years following Algerian independence were a period of abrupt transition for Algerians living in France. Policies concerning the ever-growing number of Algerians that made their homes in France exacerbated the volatile conflict between two nations and peoples that were intimately intertwined. This essay examines a particular aspect of this history. First, it examines the de facto separate welfare system that developed for Algerians in France in the 1950s, reaching its peak at the height of the war, after the creation of the Fifth Republic in 1958. In addition, it explores how and why this social welfare system was remade after Algerian independence.
In the 1950s, French welfare program administrators asserted they sought the adaptation of les français musulmans d’Algérie, yet kept Algerians in separate educational and housing programs. A growing system of social services guided Algerian migrants into French society while always holding Algerians an arm’s length from the general population. This contradiction, born of the colonial rhetoric, desperately tried to demonstrate French commitment to Algerians as ill-defined citizens while it maintained a thinly veiled racial hierarchy among citizens of the French Empire. During the final years of French rule in Algeria the French government, particularly through pertinent governmental agencies and private, publicly funded, social welfare associations cultivated hospitality, if in name only, toward Algerian families in France. These organizations encouraged Algerian migration, depicting it as simultaneously internal and foreign, through the variety of housing and educational services offered to Algerians. Algerian women, in particular, were portrayed as essential to the success or failure of Algerian integration. This system, set up to adapt and eventually integrate this population into French society, instead institutionalized the segregation of Algerians and blamed Algerian women, not isolation or racism, for Algerian marginalization in French society.
After Algerian independence, the government abandoned the guise of adaptation and integration. This essay also explores how the restructuring of this welfare system took place in the years immediately following Algerian independence. After independence, the French government relinquished its paternal commitment to Algerians, which transformed into a vision of Algerians as foreigners who had chosen to be Algerian, not French. After a decade of building programs for Algerian families, independence brought about a shift away from Algerians, and away from families in particular. Once Algérie Française no longer existed, French policy could openly encourage only temporary, male-worker migration that fed French economic needs. The high profile and well-funded programs that had been reserved for this special case, les français musulmans d’Algérie, opened to all immigrants. This restructuring, while certainly not surprising given the political climate of the mid-1960s, further marginalized Algerians in France and made the family population, which continued to grow throughout the 1960s, nearly invisible.

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