Second major security operation begins in France's Mayotte

France  Julien de Rosa  AFP
© Julien de Rosa / AFP

A new operation against insecurity, illegal immigration and unsanitary housing was launched on Tuesday in the French overseas department of Mayotte – a year after the start of the first intervention, Wuambushu.

Some 1,700 gendarmes, police and soldiers will be deployed in the clean-up operation dubbed Mayotte Place Nette (Clean Up Mayotte), which will last 11 weeks.

It follows on from last year's Operation Wuambushu ("Take Back" in Mahorian), aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration, delinquency and destroying shanty towns.

The Minister for Overseas Territories, Marie Guévenoux, told France 2 television that two operations involving 400 police officers and gendarmes began early Tuesday morning at two different locations on the island.

She said a hundred "specialised" reinforcements – notably border police officers and judicial police officers – would assist in the operation.

"We must show that Mayotte is the [French] republic. This is the first message," Guévenoux said.

Gang activity

Known as the 101st French department, Mayotte is also the poorest and has seen months of unrest linked to gang activity despite the presence of 1,600 gendarmes and police officers stationed there on a regular basis.

According to national statistics office Insee, 77 percent of the 310,000 inhabitants live in poverty. That's five times the national average.

The Indian Ocean archipelago is also facing the fallout of its worst drought since 1997, exacerbated by a lack of infrastructure and investment.

According to the Overseas Territories Ministry, police aim to arrest 60 gang leaders during the operation and destroy around 1,300 bangas, or unsanitary makeshift shelters in which many undocumented migrants live.

The government estimates that around 30 percent of housing is considered unsanitary.

The ministry said €5 million have been earmarked for the emergency accommodation of migrants arrested as part of the operation, while those living illegally would be deported.

Criticized for its lacklustre results after the start of Wuambushu, the central government wants to show that it is not giving up on the situation.

Clear signal

In February, François-Xavier Bieuville was appointed as the new police chief to oversee Mayotte Place Nette. 

"For a month, we have been doing preparation work with the actors who experienced Wuambushu," he told French news agency AFP.

"We learned lessons from it. We brought in teams from mainland France to reinforce our actions."

Guévenoux also indicated that the controversial project to end access to birthright citizenship in Mayotte was still on the table.

Once the reform takes effect, only children born to French parents in Mayotte will have the right to French nationality. 

The change, confirmed by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin during a visit in February, is part of efforts to stem migration from the neighbouring Comoros islands amid flaring tensions between locals and immigrants. 

"We need a very clear and very firm signal sent to the countries of the area," she said.

(with AFP)