French authorities begin demolition of huge slum on Mayotte

Today the demolition of a huge slum on Mayotte has started. Mayotte is a French overseas department, located in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mozambique.

Earlier, a court in Mamoudzou, the capital of Mayotte, ruled that the evacuation of that slum near the city should not go ahead, because there is no legal basis for it and civil rights are at risk of being violated. It is also not clear where the residents can go. The board of the archipelago successfully appealed against that ruling.

Monday morning, demolition workers then began destroying the sheet metal shacks in the slum of Talus 2 in Majicavo in the northeast of the island. The electricity and water supply was cut off. The demolition fits within the plan on the island to tackle illegal migration. Many illegal immigrants live in the slums.

The operation initially sparked clashes between youths and security forces in Mayotte and fueled political tensions with the neighboring archipelago of the Comoros, where most of the French island’s undocumented migrants come from.

Of the estimated 350,000 inhabitants of Mayotte, half do not have French nationality.

In 2017, 2018 and 2022, serious riots broke out in Mayotte in protest against illegal immigration from the Comoros, Madagascar and increasingly from the African mainland.

Mayotte resumed expelling illegal migrants last week when it reopened ferry links to the Comorian island of Anjouan.

According to Trouw, tension is growing on the French Mayotte archipelago in the Indian Ocean about the planned large-scale deportation of undocumented migrants. The plan is to return thousands of undocumented foreigners by boat to the neighboring archipelago of the Comoros, where they come from.

Trouw: “For this controversial operation, the French authorities have mobilized an 1,800-strong contingent of security troops, including hundreds of police officers who have been specially flown in from France. “We will not stop the operation,” Prefect Thierry Suquet recently assured.

Mayotte is located off the east coast of Africa and used to belong to the Comoros. When the Comoros became independent in the 1970s, the inhabitants of Mayotte indicated in a referendum that they wanted to remain part of France.

The tropical archipelago with its many lagoons and coral reefs is now a so-called département d’outre-mer, an overseas department, of France. This makes the small archipelago an integral part of France, where the French tricolor flies and where people pay with the euro.

Trouw: “Mayotte is the poorest department in France, with high unemployment and rampant crime. Eight out of ten people live below the poverty line. But compared to the Comoros and Madagascar a little further away, the archipelago is prosperous.”

Mayotte is therefore a magnet for African migrants who often come to the island in so-called kwassa kwassa, rickety fishing boats. It is estimated that half of the 350,000 residents have no residence papers and the vast majority of them come from the Comoros.

Trouw: “This leads to tensions, which in recent years have repeatedly degenerated into fierce protests against immigration. And now it’s brewing again. Many natives are in favor of the expulsion operation, but some of the migrants resist. Youthful sans-papiers have been throwing up barricades of garbage containers and car tires in recent days, and clashed here and there with the riot police.”

Meanwhile, Salime Mdéré, second man on the board of the archipelago, recently added extra fuel to the fire by depicting the undocumented (illegal migrants, ed.) on TV channel Mayotte La Première as ‘delinquents’, ‘tramps’ and ‘ terrorists’. “At a certain point you might just have to kill them,” he suggested, according to Trouw.

An additional problem is that the authorities in the Comoros have indicated that they are not prepared to take back migrants.

According to Trouw, the French authorities are currently negotiating with the government of the Comoros in order to proceed with the deportation. In 2019, Paris promised 150 million euros in development aid to the Comoros in exchange for cooperation in the repatriation of migrants and the fight against people smuggling.

The board of Mayotte now hopes that agreements can be made again, so that people can be brought back soon. Prefect Suquet: “The goal is to have no more slums on Mayotte”.

photo: screenshot report AFP

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