Temporary Trans-Continental Labour Migration for WWII: French Imperial and Post-Colonial Policies Towards Vietnamese Workers, 1930s to Present

Publication Type

Conference Paper

Publication Date



Was colonial-era labour migration different from the migratory flows within, between, and beyond the present-day ASEAN countries? This presentation deals with French legal provisions and policies that led to the dispatching of ‘Indochinese’ soldiers and workers to the metropole and related war theatres for World War II. While the legal provisions were created in the 1930s, thus ensuring speedy conscription (and recruitment) right after Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939, this was also against the background of earlier indigenous imperial traditions of conscription, military colonies, and corvée labour. What distinguished the French from the imperial Vietnamese system was that this happened within a global French imperial system that had advanced administrative and technological tools such as the telegraph and the steamship at its disposal. Moreover, the sending of more than 90,000 Indochinese to France during World War I served as a key precedent and model, most notably with regard to the use of labour camps as a key regulatory institution.Although the Third French Republic was soon to vanish following defeat against Nazi Germany, the labour camps were to remain as a constant during the collaborationist Vichy régime and also the Fourth French Republic. In the end, about 1,000 to 3,000 of the workers, mostly from among the interpreters, would stay in France, about 15,000 to 17,000 returned to French Indochina, while slightly more than one thousand had paid for their war-time service with their lives.Time permitting, the presentation will also deal with Vietnamese attempts to gain official recognition for their war-time service and to claim pensions, which were largely met with silence by the post-imperial French nation-state.


Asian Studies | History

Research Areas



Association of Southeast Asian Studies in the United Kingdom 26th Conference

City or Country

London, UK

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