Gavin Mortimer Gavin Mortimer

France’s crackdown on illegal immigrants comes unstuck

A French gendarme stands guard during the demolition of an informal settlement in Longoni, Mamoudzou, on the island of Mayotte (Credit: Getty images)

In the Indian Ocean island of Mayotte, France is getting tough on illegal immigrants. Authorities launched Operation Wuambushu (Take Back) on Monday, with police sent into the shanty towns to remove those there illegally and demolish their settlements. Around half of Mayotte’s population are foreign, mostly illegal immigrants from Comoros, 45 miles to the north-west. But it wasn’t long before the crackdown came unstuck.

Mayotte is the same size in land mass as the Isle of Wight – 147 square miles – but whereas the latter has a population of 142,000, Mayotte’s is somewhere between 350,000 and 400,000. No one knows the precise figure because of the high rate of illegal immigration. The arrivals live in shanty towns, and crime and disease have risen as a result. 

France governed Mayotte and the three islands of the present-day Comoros – Grande Comore, Mohéli and Anjouan – as ‘territories’ until 1974. That year Comoros voted in a referendum for independence but Mayotte opted to remain French. In 2009, the people of Mayotte, 95 per cent of whom are Sunni Muslims, voted by a huge majority to become the 101st department of the French Republic. 

Since last summer, there have been a series of bloody clashes

Twelve years later, Mayotte is France’s poorest department – an estimated 80 per cent of the population live below the poverty line – but it is still better off than the Comoros, benefiting from the welfare support of the French State. Consequently, a great many Comorans have decided to relocate. 

When Mayotte voted to remain a French territory in 1974, the population of the island was around 45,000; at the time of the 2009 referendum, it was 186,000. In fourteen years, the number of people on the island has doubled. 

Many come to Mayotte to have children. The hospitals are better and, more importantly, babies born in French territory have the ‘droit du sol’ (birthright), which makes it possible to obtain French nationality.

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