Migrant fears grow as France eyes clearance of Mayotte shantytown

Plan is for those without papers to be sent back to the Comoran island of Anjouan

By AFP

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17-year-old Soyfi sits on a bed, in Mtsapere Bonovo shantytown, on November 21, 2022, following new violent clashes between rival gangs. — AFP file
17-year-old Soyfi sits on a bed, in Mtsapere Bonovo shantytown, on November 21, 2022, following new violent clashes between rival gangs. — AFP file

Published: Sun 23 Apr 2023, 1:50 PM

Last updated: Sun 23 Apr 2023, 1:51 PM

At the entrance to the Majicavo slum on France's Indian Ocean territory Mayotte, which authorities are seeking 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 neighbouring 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 placard.

Authorities in Mayotte were expected to launch Operation Wuambushu ("Take Back") as early as this weekend to remove illegal migrants who have settled in slums on the island.

The plan is for those without papers to be sent back to the Comoran island of Anjouan, 70 kilometres (45 miles) away, although the Comoran authorities said Friday that they had no intention of accepting them.

In the 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, known locally as "bangas", will be cleared by the authorities during that time.

Dubbed "Talus 2" the camp is a maze of blue-and-grey sheet metal on the side of a verdant hill, speckled with sewage, chickens and bright clothes drying outside.

Each metal door bears an identification number, painted in pink by social services.

Behind the door marked 126, the Soufou family live surrounded by wheeled suitcases and packed holdalls.

"We prepared the bags to leave, clothes, sheets, all of our stuff, but we're not finished," said Zenabou Soufou, 48, whose seven children are French thanks to their father, born on Mayotte.

On the bed were toy unicorns belonging to the Soufous' three girls, which had not yet been packed.

The family said they have no idea where they would go, saying they had not been offered any alternative accommodation.

"We didn't refuse to leave there (the slum), but we want a dignified house so that the children can live peacefully at home. But if they destroy our houses, where are we going to go with the children?" Zenabou asked.

People in the neighbourhood often cite the lack of any alternative option for opposition to being rehoused.

But an official involved in the resettlement told AFP: "This is false, there is a proposal made to each of these families, who accept it or not. It's pure bad faith."

In the Soufous' case they may not be expelled from the island -- but their current home is a different matter.

The family perfectly illustrates the social and the administrative headache that each case represents when it comes to a large-scale operation decided upon in faraway Paris.

More than 2,000 police and administrative officials have been mobilised to set in train the expulsions of those illegally on the island and tear down the makeshift squats housing them.

At "Talus 2", however, some residents have sought to get ahead of the clearance by leaving the site and heading out of immediate harm's way.

Ouali Nedja Hamadi, 32, was born here and has grown up at the site -- hence his rising anger at being forced out.

"I don't want to be there" when the officials arrive, he told AFP from behind his sunglasses.

But those present when the operation started would not go quietly, he warned.

"Let them use tear gas, let them push -- I shall be wanting to push back too," said the young construction worker. Molotov cocktails would greet the police and officials when they arrived, he added.

He and other youths warn that the authorities will reap revenge and violence in the "civil war" he says will ensue.

Below the slum, there are those who are glad to see the notice explaining in black and white that the illegals must leave.

"We are forced to lock ourselves in all the time," said childcare worker Ismaila Faiza. "You can't walk around with valuables, like a watch, on you.

"If you take the car out of the yard, you never know in what state you'll bring it back."

The neighbourhood had become "unliveable" because of the neighbouring slum, she said.

"I can't wait for (the clearance operation) to start so we can get our island back ... our perfumed island," she added. before ducking out of sight behind her own home's secure automated gate.


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