Gérald Darmanin is committed to it. “It will no longer be possible to become French if you are not yourself the child of French parents.” On an official trip to Mayotte this Sunday, February 11, the Minister of the Interior announced the executive’s desire to abolish land rights in the poorest department in France.
In the government’s sights: immigration in particular. That coming from the Comoros archipelago. In 2019, almost all (95%) of the 123,000 foreigners present in Mayotte were of Comorian nationality, according to INSEE. They represented almost a third of the Mahorese population.
A phenomenon which can be explained by historical, proximity or even socio-economic factors, which push several thousand Comorians each year to leave the archipelago – made up of three islands: Grande Comore, Anjouan and Mohéli.
The island of Anjouan, belonging to the Comoros archipelago, is located less than 70 kilometers from Mayotte. A distance which, obviously, does not represent an obstacle for anyone planning to cross by boat.
This is how, between 2012 and 2017, 5,630 Comorians attempted to reach the French island aboard “kwassa kwassa”, small motorized fishing boats used by many candidates for illegal immigration.
But with Mayotte, the Comoros share much more than a simple neighborhood. The two entities are linked by a common colonial history, which was the origin of numerous tensions and which partly explains why Comorians migrate to Mayotte.
Common colonial history
The colonial chapter opened in 1841, when Mayotte, purchased by France, administratively left the Comoros archipelago. The separation lasted a little over four decades, until the three other islands making up the archipelago became French protectorates in 1886.
But at the end of the Second World War, independence movements reached the Comoros. Particularly on the islands of Anjouan and Mohéli. Against Mayotte, which wishes to remain in the French fold. In 1974, a consultation on the independence of the Comoros was organized. Grande Comore, Anjouan and Mohéli each received more than 99% of votes in favor of independence. Compared to only 36% in Mayotte.
And while President Ahmed Abdallah unilaterally proclaimed the independence of the archipelago in its colonial configuration – namely, Mayotte, Anjouan, Mohéli and Grande Comore – a new referendum was organized in 1976 in Mayotte and signed the definitive split of the island with the rest of the archipelago.
Poverty and low life expectancy
Since then, relations between the two entities have continued to deteriorate, widened by the ever-widening gap in socio-economic inequalities between the Comoros, which became independent at the beginning of the 1970s, and Mayotte, which remained French. Because although the island remains the poorest department of France, the standard of living there is much higher than in the Comoros.
In 2018, for example, the gross domestic product per capita in the Comoros was seven times lower than that of Mayotte. 9,380 euros compared to some 1,300 euros in the archipelago, according to INSEE. Life expectancy is also lower there. Men and women combined live on average up to 64 years in the Comoros, compared to 76 years in Mayotte.
“Mayotte offers a quality much higher than that of the Comoros and Madagascar. This therefore leads to considerable inequalities in the region”, explains Fahad Idaroussi Tsimanda, doctor of geography at Paul-Valéry-Montpellier University on the website of ENS Lyon.
Mayotte, French hope for the Comorians
For the researcher, there is no doubt: poverty and poor living conditions are the main drivers of immigration. “There is said to exist on the island (of Mayotte) “an employment market” (encouraged by some locals) for illegal migrants, particularly in agriculture, fishing and construction, for a salary above €400 on average , which is considerable since the average salary in the Comoros is 64 dollars,” he notes.
Furthermore, for many Comorians, Mayotte is seen as the first stage of a much more distant final destination: mainland France. “96% of migrants arriving in Mayotte are Comorians […] whose aim is generally to submit an asylum application”, underlined Estelle Youssouffa, Liot MP from Mayotte, last spring.
Last April, the tenant of Beauvau had already tried to respond to the concerns of local elected officials who questioned the government on the security situation in Mayotte. A “catastrophic” situation attributed by many Mahorean political actors to Comorian immigration.
Faced with cries of alarm, the French government reacted by setting up operation “Wuambushu”. The objective was to put an end to unsanitary housing, insecurity, as well as illegal Comorian immigration to Mayotte.
A real standoff was then born between the French state and the authorities of the Comorian archipelago, who had initially refused to take back migrants from Mayotte, before gaining access, on the basis of the voluntary service of these. A situation which could arise again, as Gérald Darmanin’s latest outings suggest that Operation Wuambushu is entering its second phase.