- Despite heavy protests from Comoros, the Comoran island Mayotte soon will become a department and an integrated part of France. The move could further divide France and Comoros, or bring them closer together.
The 185,000 inhabitants of Mayotte in a 2008 referendum voted strongly in favour of integrating their Comoran island deeper into France, becoming an ordinary department and getting full citizen rights. The French parliament recently approved of the "départementalisation" of Mayotte.
Outgoing Comoran President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi used the November Europe-Africa summit in Tripoli and recent UN summits to protest this process. He asked the European Union (EU) to pressurise France to implement his "one country, two governments" plan, which would see a shared French-Comoran authority over Mayotte.
President Sambi at the Tripoli summit emphasised on the "large human sacrifice" resulting from the French rule over Mayotte, especially due to the large influx of Comoran and East African migrants trying to reach the relatively rich French administered island.
According to President Sambi, this irregular migration had already claimed the lives of over 7,000 Comorans. Most migrants try to reach Mayotte in fragile "kwassa kwassa" boats, not made for the 115 kilometres crossing from the Comoran island of Anjouan.
The illegal immigration to Mayotte, where residents have a right to a French passport and French social services, is indeed the most pressing issue for the Paris government regarding the island.
According to a recent report by French Senator Isabelle Debré, "the part of irregular immigrants among the population [in Mayotte] is situated between 35 and 48 percent." Most stem from other Comoran islands, but some come from as far away as East and Central Africa.
The report by Ms Debré is very revealing when it comes to the scale of the problem created by the wide gap in living standards between Mayotte and other Comoran islands; Comoros being the poorest of the Indian Ocean nations.
According to Senator Debré, around euro 70 million are spent each year by France in Mayotte only to fight irregular immigration. On a comparative basis, France only spends euro 9.3 million on development aid for Comoros and only euro 300,000 for regional cooperation efforts, the same report says.
If these politics are continued as Mayotte becomes an integrated part of France, the historic split between Comoros and France will only deepen, French and Comoran politicians agree. And currently, no major policy shifts are planned for.
However, there are voices proposing a shift in policies that could rather lead to deepening French-Comoran ties and further regional cooperation efforts. French parliamentarians Daniel Goldberg, Loïc Bouvard and Bernard Lesterlin propose to change the balance of French funds going towards Comoros in a way that could reduce migration and therefore the costs of fighting it.
"We want to promote a shared regional economic development between the four islands [Mayotte and Comoros] as the only possibility of a harmonic balance in the archipelago," the three MPs said, adding that the "territorial logic" would force such a policy to be implemented.
They present concrete development proposals. These include direct air services between the triangle France, Comoros and Mayotte on equal terms - currently, only France-Mayotte routes are treated as domestic flights. "Similarly, a joint plan to develop tourism, especially eco-tourism around the marine park of Moheli and Mayotte, would enhance existing assets." Comoros is the least developed tourist destination in the region.
Further, the three MPs say, Comoros and Mayotte should be treated as one entity when it comes to food security policies and the management of agricultural resources. Regarding social issues, possibilities of a shared labour market should be considered. Finally, "access to water, health care, education and waste management should be the subject of extensive cooperation," they hold.
With such a plan, the "imbalances" in the Comoran archipelago would be addressed, removing root causes for both irregular immigration and territorial conflicts between France and Comoros, the three MPs hold. Regarding the current high costs to fight immigration, the concept would even be cost-effective.
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