The Ambiguities of the BUMIDOM (1963-1982): A Specific Migration Policy for the French Overseas Departments

Special Report Title: The State and Overseas
By Sylvain Pattieu

The BUMIDOM is a French state agency created by the government in 1963 in order to control and organize migrations from the overseas departments (Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Reunion) and thus neutralize the latent social crisis. The mere existence of such an agency as well as the policy it implemented reveal the continued existence of specific treatments of the overseas departments and their population, even after the colonial period. Such persistence constitutes a starting point to study and analyze a French colorline that may be less rigid and apprehendable than those that exist in states with institutionalized segregation. Although it does not rely on a biological type of racism, it is still based upon practices justified by the geographic and cultural backgrounds of the migrants. Migrants coming from overseas departments are viewed as citizens by the BUMIDOM. They are still subjected to a specific public and associational supervision. The study also shows that some of the practices by BUMIDOM agents and the general prejudice against people from the overseas departments contributed to forms of racialization that are more culturalist than colorist (but it’s worth noting these two forms are not mutually exclusive). The organized migrations implemented by the BUMIDOM reveal deeply unequal relations between the mainland and the overseas departments. That is why despite the non-coercive nature of its action, the BUMIDOM is remembered as a weak institution and generally despised by the population. The agents of the BUMIDOM probably considered the migrants from the overseas territories as full citizens; however, not only were their actions constrained by the domination to which their “clients” were subjected, but the policy they implemented contributed, to a certain extent, to the persistence of their domination.

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