In 1939, after discussions that sparked controversy among the region, it was first used as a detention centre for refugees fleeing Spain. Within six weeks, regional builders and engineers had constructed simple barracks within the compound located near the border. In April 1939, there were already more than 15,000 men, women and children being held there. From May 1940, there were also people who had fled Germany being interned in Gurs, having been declared “hostile foreigners.” At times there were almost 20,000 people within the overcrowded camp. The camp, initially under the French War Office, eventually fell under the control of the Interior Ministry of the Vichy regime.