Three suitcases sit piled on top of one another in 95-year-old Yoro Diao’s cramped studio apartment outside Paris. After nearly 20 years of living thousands of miles from his family so he could claim his French army pension, the old soldier is finally being allowed to return to live in his native Senegal. “It’s a victory,” the decorated veteran told AFP as he prepared to fly back on Friday with eight other former soldiers aged 85 to 96. “We’re going home to live with our grandchildren.” “I’m going to live and eat well. I’ll walk around the village. It’s paradise over there,” he added, a smile lighting up his thin face. Hundreds of thousands of African soldiers fought for their colonial master France in the two world wars and against independence movements in Indochina and Algeria. But until this year, surviving veterans among the so-called “Senegalese Infantrymen” had to live in France for half the year or lose their pension. In January, the French state dropped the condition, saying they could return home for good and continue receiving their monthly allowance of 950 euros ($1,000). It would also pay for the flight and move of any veterans wishing to leave. In his small room in the Paris suburb of Bondy, Diao pulled a fourth suitcase from beneath his bed. From it he drew out pictures of his family in Senegal, men he fought with in Algeria and Southeast Asia, and the day in 2017 when he was awarded France’s highest honour, the Legion d’Honneur. Then “President (Francois) Hollande was supposed to hand it to me, but he was busy, so it was a prefect instead,” he said wryly. As he packed, Diao left himself written reminders dotted around the room. In the frenzy of preparations, his passport, which was in the pocket of one of his jackets, was shipped in a container by mistake, and he had to obtain a second emergency document. Some 37 retired colonial soldiers like Diao still live in France, according to the Association for the Memory and History of Senegalese Infantrymen. Its head, Aissata Seck, said the nine returning to Senegal on Friday was the culmination of a decade-long campaign for their rights. “They were long neglected,” said Seck, 43, whose late grandfather was also a colonial soldier. When she first met Diao and his comrades 10 years ago, many lived alone in tiny hostel rooms sharing a communal bathroom, effectively stuck far from home yet unable to bring their families to France on their meagre income. Their pensions were increased to adjust for inflation for the first time in almost five decades in 2006. “I was shocked that all these old men who had contributed to our freedom couldn’t even become French,” she said. Only after years of lobbying were the foreign veterans finally granted French nationality in 2017 by Hollande. President Emmanuel Macron’s government then lifted the six-month residency condition for their pension in January.