Comoros to accept migrants voluntarily returning from Mayotte
A motorcycle rides past a sign which reads “ Mayotte is Comoran and will remain so forever” in Moroni, on the Ngazidja island in the Comoros Archipelago on May 6, 2023
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PATRICK MEINHARDT/AFP or licensors
The Morning Call
Comoros said Monday it will resume accepting its nationals returning “voluntarily” from the neighbouring French island of Mayotte, following a weeks-long standoff with Paris over the expulsion of undocumented Comorans.
France said last month that it would deport thousands of undocumented Comoran migrants and started razing slums as part of a security operation in Mayotte.
The so-called Operation Wuambushu (“Take Back” in the local language) triggered clashes between youths and security forces in Mayotte and fuelled political tensions with the Comoros.
Claiming it would not cope with the influx of its nationals, the Comoran government refused to take in deportees from Mayotte, and suspended docking authorisation for boats arriving from the island.
But tensions appeared to have thawed on Monday, with Moroni saying it would take in those returning on a “voluntary” basis.
Only candidates who volunteered to leave Mayotte “will be admitted here,” Comoros government spokesman Houmed Msaidie told a news conference, adding “mechanisms to identify voluntary departures will be put in place”.
The latest announcement comes a week after President Emmanuel Macron and his counterpart Azali Assoumani met in Paris to ease the situation.
Interior and foreign ministers from both countries also met last week, pledging to “cool the tensions”.
Around half of Mayotte’s roughly 350,000-strong population is estimated to be foreign, most of them Comoran.
Mayotte is the fourth island of the Indian Ocean Comoros archipelago, which was once a French territory.
France retained control over the island after a 1974 referendum, but the Union of the Comoros, which governs the three other islands, still claims it as its own.
Despite being France’s poorest department, Mayotte has French infrastructure and welfare, making it a tempting destination for Comorans living in poverty.
Many pay smugglers to make the dangerous, sometimes deadly sea crossing to Mayotte — 70 kilometres (45 miles) away at the closest point — on rickety fishing boats.