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Relatives seek proper burials for children of Algerian collaborators | Africanews

"It's here," says the employee, quietly, at the vast Perpignan cemetery in southern France.

Standing in front of two small mounds of earth in the Muslim section -- graves six and eight, rows 22 and 25 -- Abessia Dargaid collapses in tears.

"So, so sorry!" she sobs, gently placing her hand on the piled-up earth marking the burial site of her baby brothers.

Fifty-seven years ago, twins Yahia and Abbas died shortly after being born in a camp housing pro-French Algerian soldiers, 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) from the cemetery.

After many decades of not knowing where the infants had been buried, Abessia's family has now tracked them down.

They died during a tragic chapter in Franco-Algerian history that associations, historians and families have worked in the last few years to bring to light.

Algerian loyalists, known as harkis, fought for France in their country's war of independence against more than 130 years of French colonial rule.

French forces cracked down on the independence fighters and the vicious 1954-1962 war saw atrocities on both sides.

But after France pulled out of Algeria, the harkis were abandoned.

Many were massacred by the victorious Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), which accused them of being traitors.

About 42,000 harkis, many with their wives and children, were brought to France, while another 40,000 came under their own steam.

Considered refugees, they were confined in six camps run by the French army, in poor and unhygienic conditions, some surrounded by barbed wire and kept under surveillance.

Among them was Abessia's family, who had faced FLN attacks in Algeria because her father and brother had fought for the French.

In December 1962, her mother gave birth to the twins in the infirmary of the Rivesaltes camp, north of Perpignan.

The infants were ill and taken to hospital but died several months later and their bodies never returned to the family.

"My father was just able to see Abbas's hand after he died in hospital," Abessia, 68, told AFP.

According to historians and family accounts gathered by AFP over several months, scores of children whose parents were in the camps died and did not receive a proper burial by their relatives or soldiers.

Babies were buried in camp grounds, nearby or in fields, mostly without a name plaque, they said.

For those who died in hospital, authorities arranged cemetery burials but often without relatives present or informed, families say.

On an oppressively hot August afternoon, a prayer in Arabic playing on a phone, Abessia, her sister Rahma, 70, and brother Abdelkader Dargaid, 65, are shocked at the unmarked and forgotten state of their brothers' graves.

"There's not even a first name on their graves?" a weeping Abdelkader asks.

"It shouldn't be allowed, to bury someone like that and then abandon it, without a plaque...," adds Abessia.

'Excess death rate'

Most of those who died in the camps were stillborn or young babies, according to statistics collected by French historian Abderahmen Moumen. An Algerian Wa

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