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Formed in 1831 by Louis Philippe to enforce French rule in newly-acquired Algeria, it developed into a collective exercise in convenient amnesia, acquiring a reputation as a haven for cut-throats, crooks and sundry fugitives from justice. Few questions were asked of new recruits, making it an ideal repository for the scum of the earth. And with the scum came the romantics, men searching for a way to dull the pain of doomed love.
The Legion’s image as a haven for ne’er-do-wells is largely out of date. Now, aspiring recruits are subjected to detailed background checks via Interpol.
"We don’t accept the hardened criminals any more, the murderers or rapists," says Capt Samir Benykrelef, "so this makes our job easier."
But there is still a hint of romance: all recruits must assume a new name on joining the Legion. This is because some recruits do indeed want a new start and new identity, and it is fairer to make all new Legionnaires undergo the same process.
"We call the new entrants Generation PlayStation because they’re so soft. Now we’re taking the ex-husbands running from alimony, and all these guys with university degrees."