Îles du Salut

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Îles du Salut
Map of the Îles du Salut and their location.
Satellite image

The Îles du Salut (in English: Islands of Salvation, so called because the missionaries went there to escape plague on the mainland) are a group of small islands of volcanic origin about 11 km off the coast of French Guiana (14 km north of Kourou) in the Atlantic Ocean. Although closer to Kourou, the islands are part of Cayenne commune (municipality), specifically Cayenne 1er Canton Nord-Ouest.

There are three islands, from north to south:

Island Area (ha) Height (m)
Île du Diable 14 40
Île Royale 28 66
Île Saint-Joseph 20 30
TOTAL 62

Île du Diable, the most famous due to the political imprisonment there of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, is better known to English speakers as Devil's Island. The total area is 0.62 km² (62 hectares). Île du Diable and Île Royale are separated by Passe des Grenadines, Île Royale and Île Saint-Joseph by Passe de Désirade.

The islands were part of a penal colony from 1852 onwards for only the worst criminals of France. The main part of the penal colony was a labor camp stretched along the border with Dutch Guiana, which today is Surinam. Île Royale was for the general population of the worst criminals of the penal colony to roam about in moderate freedom due to the difficulty of escape from the island. Île Saint-Joseph was for the worst of those criminals to be punished in solitary confinement in silence and for extra punishment in darkness of the worst of the worst criminals of the penal colony. Île du Diable was for political prisoners, including Dreyfus in 1895-1899 after his conviction in metropolitan France for treason.

This penal colony for the very worst criminals of France was controversial for it had a reputation for harshness and brutality. Prisoner upon prisoner violence was common, tropical diseases would kill many others, and a small core of broken survivors would return to France to tell how horrible it was and scare other potential criminals straight. This system was gradually phased out and has been completely shut down since 1953. Nowadays the islands are a popular tourist destination. The islands were featured in the novel by Henri Charrière, Papillon. He was imprisoned here for 9 years. Joseph Conrad's short story An Anarchist (1906) is largely set in the Îles du Salut.

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Coordinates: 5°17′09″N 52°35′09″W / 5.28583°N 52.58583°W / 5.28583; -52.58583