France's lost children fight back

By Hugh Schoefield

Febuary 13, 2002, BBC News

France's government tried to re-populate its emptying countryside in the 1960s by a policy of forced adoptions from the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, a court in the southern city of Montpellier is due to be told.

Jean-Jacques Barbey, 42, has lodged a case for financial compensation because he says he was wrenched from his home on the island at the age of seven.

"For 30 years I lived in France not knowing where I was from, why I was different. It was like coming to another planet," he said.

Mr Barbey was one of more than 1,000 children who were brought to France in questionable circumstances from the French territory of Reunion, researchers have shown.

They were then re-settled with families in remote rural areas of France like the central Creuse department.

The policy is widely believed to have been the initiative of Michel Debre, a former Gaullist prime minister and parliamentary representative for the island.

"It was quite an extraordinary operation. There is no question that the natural parents of these children underwent a degree of compulsion," Yves Guiet, a local historian in the Creuse, told France Soir newspaper.

Mr Barbey, who now works as a chef in the southern town of Narbonne, says his parents were deceived into giving him up for adoption when he was seven. He says he was then flown to France with a batch of other "deportees."

"No-one ever asked my mother what she thought. She had no intention of abandoning me. And I am convinced my father's signature was tricked out of him," he said.

He was initially given to a family in the Creuse. When that did not work out he joined another family in the north. But there - in his adolescence - he says he suffered mistreatment at the hands of his new father.

Two years ago he received a letter out of the blue telling him of the existence of his mother, a brother and a sister, and last year he returned for the first time to Reunion.

"To be able to say 'mum' for the first time at the age of 42 - it was magic," he said.

Mr Barbey's lawyer, Bernard Saumade, said there were serious anomalies in his adoption papers. Under the law he should have been formally abandoned by both parents, but this was not the case.

"The boy should never have been moved," he said.

He has asked the state for the symbolically high figure of 1bn euros. The case will not be heard for several months.

The story of the Reunion adoptions was first revealed five years ago, and since then several people in their 30s and 40s have come forward to ask questions about their origin.

But this is the first time the affair has come to court.
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