In response to a migration crisis on Mayotte, a French island territory off Africa’s east coast, the French government has taken decisive action by deploying 2,000 troops and police officers. The objective is to carry out mass expulsions, demolish slums, and combat violent gangs that have been plaguing the island. However, the operation has faced significant challenges and sparked concerns of potential abuse, exacerbating tensions between local residents and immigrants from neighboring Comoros. This situation has also shed light on the deep-rooted poverty and inequalities that exist between Mayotte and the rest of France.
Mayotte, despite being an integral part of France, lags far behind the mainland in terms of economic prosperity. In contrast, Comoros, located across the Indian Ocean, was once a French colony but gained independence in 1975. The stark economic disparity between the two regions has led to a significant influx of migrants from Comoros seeking better opportunities on the island of Mayotte.
Local residents, including long-time Comorian residents like Momo, place the blame for Mayotte’s problems on the French state’s neglect. They argue that the ongoing operation will not bring about any meaningful improvements. In response, some anti-migrant collectives on the island have taken matters into their own hands by blocking hospitals that provide medical care to foreigners and disrupting shipments to Comoros, thereby posing a considerable challenge for the authorities.
The dispute over the status of Mayotte between Mayotte itself and Comoros dates back to the 19th century when France purchased Mayotte in 1841. The other three main islands of the Comoros chain also came under French colonization. However, in a 1974 referendum, Mayotte voted against independence and chose to remain French, while the other islands formed the independent nation of Comoros. Despite this, Comoros still claims Mayotte as part of its territory.
The population of Mayotte has nearly quadrupled since 1991, currently standing at approximately 260,000 people, with many immigrants going uncounted. While Mayotte offers essential services such as healthcare and education, Comoros struggles with corruption and limited public resources, creating an economic disparity that further fuels tensions between the communities residing on both sides.
The French government launched “Operation Wuambushu” in April with the aim of addressing the migration crisis. However, the operation has faced setbacks, as court rulings have blocked expulsions, and Comoros has refused to accept the migrants back, leading to a deadlock. French President Emmanuel Macron recently met with Comoros President Azali Assoumani in an attempt to find a resolution to this ongoing issue.
While some residents of Mayotte support the security surge provided by the deployment of troops and police, tensions continue to escalate between those who identify as “true Mahorais” (Mayotte residents) and the population of Comorian origin. The situation has resulted in families being torn apart, leaving children and teenagers vulnerable to the consequences. As a result, human rights organizations, including UNICEF and CIMADE, have expressed concerns about the operation’s impact, particularly regarding the risk of children being separated from their parents. They have called on the French government to provide housing and mental health support for affected families.
As security forces navigate the complex dynamics between gangs and anti-migrant militias, Mayotte remains deeply divided, with the potential for further tensions to arise as the operation unfolds. The road to resolving the migration crisis and fostering harmony between the communities of Mayotte and Comoros remains uncertain.