By Charlie Kimber
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France launches anti-migrant offensive in colony Mayotte

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French imperialism grabbed Mayotte in the 19th century—and made sure to hang on to it in the 1970s
Issue 2853
Anti-racists mobilised in Paris last December, marching behind a big blue banner, to illustrate a story about the attacks on migrants Mayotte

Anti-racists mobilised in Paris last December. They plan more protests after the attacks in Mayotte (Picture: MSolidarites on Twitter)

Isolated, hated and under pressure from workers’ action, French president Emmanuel Macron has launched a disgusting racist offensive. He is using the colonial possession of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean for an anti-migrant campaign.

On Monday interior minister Gerald Darmanin launched the Wuambushu—“Recovery” in Mahoran— police operation using 1,800 police and gendarmes, riot police and other forces. The declared aim is to demolish slum areas inhabited by undocumented migrants. They want to expel 10,000 of them— mainly to the Anjouan, part of the independent Comoros islands, located 50 miles away.

Le Monde newspaper reports that on Sunday, the eve of the main operation, police moved in around the village of Tsoundzou. They fired at least 650 tear gas canisters, 85 crowd dispersal grenades—and 12 live ammunition shots from automatic pistols. The police tried to justify their fusillade by explaining that they shot into the ground and “to scare away”. 

Politicians in Mayotte have ramped up racism.  The local MP Estelle Youssouffa said, “The schools are saturated because 80 percent of the pupils are Comorians who are totally illiterate.” 

Salime Mdéré, vice president of the Departmental Council of Mayotte, went even further. He said, “These thugs, these delinquents, these terrorists, at some point it may be necessary to kill some. I am weighing my words.”

On Tuesday a court temporarily halted the cops’ clearance of a slum citing safety concerns. And the Comoros has refused to accept deportees. But the French authorities are determined to continue their assaults. 

Mayotte is a sea of poverty because of the backwardness enforced by French imperialism, which grabbed it in the 19th century. It was carved out from the rest of Comoros through a fixed referendum when the rest of the archipelago became independent in the 1970s. It is the site of a French military base.  

Regrettably, for the French state, this imperial hangover carries with it the possibility that people born or landing there might then seek the right to enter France. So a thicket of laws and restrictions seek to repel migrants, even at the cost of them drowning as they attempt to reach Mayotte. 

Last month at least 22 people died after their boat sank as they tried to reach Mayotte. There are no sure statistics on how many people have lost their lives in attempting such crossings. A French senate report published in the early 2000s estimated that, at that time, around 1,000 people were dying each year.

The Comoros authorities claim it is “the world’s largest marine cemetery”. The French state says it deported 25,000 people from Mayotte in 2022 alone. That’s more than were deported from France itself. 

French anti-racists are taking to the streets this Saturday. The main focus is Darmanin’s new anti-migrant law, but the foul Mayotte operation is also part of the reason for the mobilisation.

Marche des Soldarites said, “The racism and atomisation that Macron and Darmanin cultivate and that they would like in the service of more exploitation and consent to the national and authoritarian state is the terrain on which fascism thrives, whether it takes the form of -so-called respectable National Rally or that of all groups that organise direct violence against immigrants, Muslims and, increasingly, against activists and anti-racist, feminist, trade union organisations.

“That is to say not only the passive consent to racism and nationalism but the active mobilisation, on these themes, of a fraction of the population.

“So let us hope—and we will actively contribute to it—that we will be numerous on 29 Apri in Paris, Marseille, Rennes, Grenoble, Toulouse, Lille, Strasbourg, St Brévin—against Darmanin and his world, against his law, for the abandonment of the operation in Mayotte.

On Wednesday as part of her speech supposedly outlining “100 days of action” to pacify French people, prime minister Elisabeth Borne admitted she was too nervous of the consequences to move immediately to introduce Darmanin’s law to parliament.

“There is no majority to vote for such a text. Besides, this is not the time to launch a debate on a subject that could divide the country,” she said. This is a tribute to campaigning by anti-racists and undocumented migrants’ groups.

However, Borne said she would try to step up anti-migrant measures using existing laws, including a new force to police the “open” border with Italy. The anti-racist agitation has to continue, and be stepped up.

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