La Retirada, "retirement" in Catalan, or the exodus of the Spanish Republicans,
a little history…
In 1936 the Spanish Civil War began, initiated by supporters of General Franco against the 2nd Republic. The fall of Barcelona in 1939 led to the exodus of approximately 500 people who fled Francoism to find asylum in France, crossing the border of the Pyrenees in extreme conditions.
The Col des Bélitres located above Cerbère was one of the main crossing points for these refugees.
This exodus takes place under particularly difficult conditions: exhausted after three years of deprivation and hastily left in the most complete destitution, they face the cold, the snow, the bombardments of the Francoist aviation on the roads.
The reception in France is more than mixed, France in 1939, which is suffering from the economic crisis, is plagued by xenophobic feelings. As early as 1938, the Daladier government enacted several decree laws providing for the administrative internment of “undesirable” foreigners. The Spaniards will be the first to suffer the repercussions. Moreover, the French authorities did not expect such an influx of population leading to the deployment of military troops at the crossing points.
Republican troops are disarmed and all refugees are searched. The first arrivals will be sent to internment camps or "concentration camps" on the sand: Argelès-sur-Mer, Saint-Cyprien, Le Barcarès and Rivesaltes.
The precarious living conditions, the intense cold, the lack of water, food and hygiene will lead to terrible epidemics. Very precarious barracks will be built later.