France was poised to start a large police operation next week against what it sees as illegal immigration and delinquency on the island of Mayotte, an overseas department located in the Indian Ocean near the Comoros, where many live under the poverty threshold.
The upcoming operation was confirmed for the first time on Thursday, April 20, by Gérald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, following an article published by satirical weekly The chained Duck in February.
Darmanin denied the operation was to be launched as early as Monday for a period of two months as recent media reports had suggested. “There is not a moment when you start it and a moment when you finish it,” he told France Info radio last week, adding the initiative was in fact “already underway.”
However, he confirmed the dispatch of “four squadrons of mobile gendarmes, police officers of the CRS-8 unit which specializes in urban violence, for a total of 510 members of law enforcement.”
“There are 1,800 police officers and gendarmes right now in Mayotte doing police operations, putting an end to arms trafficking, putting an end to criminal gangs,” Darmanin said.
In total, more than 2,500 staff (from law enforcement, the regional health agency, justice…) are involved, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told The world.
Concerns over the fate of children
Called “Wuambushu,” which in Mahoran can mean “recovery” as well as “itching powder,” the operation was approved by French President Emmanuel Macron.
The aim is to expel illegal immigrants, mostly from the neighboring archipelago of Comoros, who have settled in particularly insalubrious neighborhoods called “bangas.”
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Nearly half of the estimated 350,000 residents of Mayotte do not have French nationality, according to the national statistics institute (INSEE), but a third of the foreigners were born on the island. France’s 101st department attracts thousands of migrants every year, arriving by sea in “kwassa-kwassa,” makeshift boats, from the neighboring Comorian island of Ndzouani, but also from the Great Lakes region of Africa and increasingly from Madagascar.
The Comoros authorities, who still claim sovereignty over Mayotte, which remained French after gaining independence from France in 1975, are fiercely opposed to the operation.
A number of non-governmental organizations, including the Human Rights League, have expressed concern in a joint statement about the upcoming “Wuambushu” operation, saying France was “placing minors in intolerable situations of vulnerability and danger.”
At the entrance to the Majicavo slum in Mayotte, which authorities seek to evacuate and demolish, a group gathered around a poster emblazoned with the French flag.
“Every day it’s this or that, they come from the town hall or the police,” said Fatima Youssuf, 55, who, like most of the migrants on the territory, comes from the neighboring Comoros Islands.
“It’s to destroy our property, our houses and yet there are people who have been there for 35 years!” Youssouf said angrily, unable to read the cupboard.
The plan is for those without papers to be sent back to the Comoran island of Anjouan, 70 kilometers away, although the Comoran authorities said on Friday that they had no intention of accepting them.
In the Majicavo settlement, the A4 size poster announced a ban on traffic between 5:30 am and 5:30 pm on Tuesday, leaving open the possibility that the slum will be cleared by the authorities during that time.