World

Wounded legionnaires now qualify for French citizenship

Wounded members of the French Foreign Legion will now have an automatic right to French citizenship.

The French government sparked an outcry when it refused to change citizenship laws to help foreign legionnaires wounded in the line of duty.

The fabled Legion is special: While part of the French army, 70 per cent of legionnaires are foreign, coming from 138 different countries. Their code of honour reminds them they are volunteers, who must serve France faithfully and with honour.

Since the 19th century, the Legion has been a way for many men to start a new life. After five years of loyal service, they can ask for French citizenship, no questions asked.

But Legionnaires wounded in the line of duty have been another story, because they can't complete their service. Twenty men have been wounded in the past four years, two recently while clearing mines in Bosnia.

Earlier this year, the French justice minister sparked an outcry when she refused to change the citizenship law to help such men. She said there was no reason to create distinctions between the Legion's wounded, and other candidates for French citizenship.

Veterans went on the warpath. After months of lobbying, the National Assembly voted to change the law. The bill said the nation owed a moral debt to those who spilled their blood for her.

The law was changed, unanimously.