Police officers of the GAO unit arrest two illegal immigrants on November 28, 2022 in the village of Vahibe, near Mamoudzou, in the French Indian Ocean territory of Mayotte, as street battles erupt between gangs after a 20-year-old was stabbed to death on November 12 in the northern slum-fringed suburb of Kaweni, and a school bus was attacked in the same area last week, leading the mainland government to send a contingent of elite anti-terror police to help restore order.
The outbreak of violence underscores declining living standards in Mayotte and has brought to the fore longstanding accusations of neglect by the Paris government, which are often heard in other overseas French territories in the Caribbean and Pacific. Mayotte was paralysed for six weeks by strikes and blockades in 2018, and the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe both erupted in violent protests last year. (Photo by Gregoire MEROT / AFP)
(AFP) – The Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros is urging France to step back from a looming operation that could see the forced return of illegal migrants from the neighbouring French island of Mayotte.
Authorities in Mayotte are expected to launch Operation Wuambushu (“Take back”) on April 20, after the end of Ramadan.
Its goal is to remove illegal migrants who have settled in slums in Mayotte and send those without papers back to the Comoran island of Anjouan, 70 kilometres (45 miles) away.
The operation was approved by French President Emmanuel Macron in February.
“We strongly recommend the French drop Operation Wuambushu,” Comoros government spokesman Houmed Msaidie said on Tuesday.
Anjouan governor Anissi Chamsidine said the island was unable to “cope with the violence created from Mayotte by the French state.”
Comoros‘ President, Azali Assoumani, who is currently visiting Saudi Arabia, last week told AFP he hoped the plan would be dropped, but acknowledged he lacked “the means to stop the operation through force.”
On March 18, Macron, in a phone call with Assoumani, expressed “concern regarding the social and security situation in Mayotte,” according to a readout by the French presidential palace.
Mayotte and the three islands of the present-day Comoros were French territories until 1975.
Following a referendum, three islands — Grande Comore, Moheli and Anjouan — declared themselves to be a separate country, the Union of the Comoros.
But Mayotte voted to remain a French overseas territory and later became a French department — a status rejected by the Comoros, which continues to claim the island.
Mayotte is France‘s poorest department with around 80 percent of the population living beneath the poverty line and high levels of social delinquency.
But it also benefits from French infrastructure support and welfare, and this has caused an influx from the Comoros, with many migrants attempting the hazardous crossing on rickety boats used by smugglers.
– ‘Massacre waiting to happen’ –
Around half of Mayotte‘s roughly 300,000 population is estimated to be foreign, most of them Comoran.
In 2019, France stepped up efforts to stem the flow, strengthening sea patrols that are supported by air surveillance.
In 2022, those resources facilitated the interception of 571 boats carrying 8,000 migrants. A total of 25,380 people were removed last year, mostly to the Comoros.
On April 5, civil society groups in Comoros warned that Operation Wuambushu was a “massacre waiting to happen” and urged international organisations to intervene.
Prominent figures in Mayotte have also spoken out, including Jean-Marie Burguburu, chairman of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights.
He wrote to Gerald Darmanin, the French minister of the interior and overseas territories, to say the clampdown risked “worsening social tensions and divisions in a context that is already very fragile.”
“Mass expulsions” would also “infringe respect for the fundamental rights of foreigners,” he said.
© Agence France-Presse