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The French colonization of Vietnam during the second half of the 19th century opened the way for the birth a Vietnamese diaspora in France. Mobilization of manpower during World War I led to the recruitment of some 50,000 mainly Vietnamese who served as workers and soldiers (linh tho) in France. Several thousand stayed on following the armistice to work in textile and automobile plants as well as on the construction of railways in northern France. Joining them were several hundred Vietnamese sailors, cooks, and servants, who worked on French and European ships serving Indochina and elsewhere. During the interwar period, several thousand mainly students lived and studied in France, though many returned. On the eve of World War II, the French government requisitioned some 20,000 Vietnamese to move to France as part of the program of Main-d’oeuvre indigène (MOI) or Indigenous Manpower. No sooner had they arrived in early 1940 than the Germans defeated the French and occupied the country. Later that year around 4,500 of the MOI returned to Indochina. According to Pierre Daum, at the end of World War II, some 25,000 Vietnamese resided in France – 14,000 workers, 7,000 tirailleurs, and some 4,000 students and others. Between 1946 and 1952, the majority of the workers and soldiers repatriated to Vietnam.

During the Indochina War, many well-to-do families in the Associated State of Vietnam sent their sons to France as students rather than see them enlisted into the army. The Associated State of Vietnam approved the draft in mid-1951. Educational exchanges with France also continued during the conflict. Several hundreds Vietnamese students continued to study in the metropole. According to the French security services, as of 1954, 27,350 Vietnamese were residing in France or had been since 1945 (the periodization is not clear).

Until the Associated State of Vietnam got off the ground in 1949 and established its diplomatic and cultural offices in France, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam had little competition when it came to working among the Vietnamese com-munities in Paris, Marseille, and elsewhere. In 1946, during his trip to France, Ho Chi Minh personally appealed to the Vietnamese in France to support the new government and its nationalist cause and to pressure the French to negotiate in good faith. The DRV operated a diplomatic delegation in Paris until 1949 (when the Associated State of Vietnam came into being). One of its main tasks was to win over and mobilize the overseas Vietnamese in favor the DRV’s war effort. This meant arranging demonstrations, promoting propaganda drives, contacting patriotic intellectuals, lobbying politicians, organizing students and workers, and so on. The Vietnamese in France also helped the DRV obtain much needed materials, especially hi-tech equipment and books needed inside Vietnam for building the cryptographic office or the medical school. The Vietnamese in France were often precious conduits between the “inside” and the “outside” for the embattled DRV. Overseas Vietnamese also returned to Vietnam and enlisted in the DRV’s ranks. See also OVERSEAS VIETNAMESE IN JAPAN; OVERSEAS VIETNAMESE IN THAILAND; NGUYEN NGOC NHUT; TRAN DAI NGHIA.