The Mayotte crisis

With the massive arrival of migrants from Anjouan, the department of Mayotte is sinking into crisis. As newcomers crowd into slums, delinquency skyrockets and the government has no other response than security. What to do?

Cyrille Hanappe is an architect, lecturerENSA Paris Belleville. He has been working for many years in Mayotte on the reduction of unsanitary housing. His agency, AIR Architectures, was winner of the competition A roof for all overseas organized by the Urban Construction Architecture Plan in 2022.

The Life of Ideas: Why and how do migrants arrive in Mayotte?

Cyrille Hanappe: The migrants settling in Mayotte come mainly from the neighboring island of Anjouan. With Mayotte, Grande-Comore and Mohli, Anjouan is one of the four islands of the Comoros archipelago. In 1974, Mayotte voted to remain French, while the other three voted for independence to form the Union of the Comoros.

This country, just likeUN, considers that Mayotte should be an integral part of it, while the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of Mayotte do not want to hear about it and consider themselves fully French. The economic and political power of the Union is located in Grande Comore, and Anjouan is the poor relation of the country. The President of the Comoros, Azouli Assoumani, in power since 1999 following a coup d'état, barely hides from exploiting the poverty and forced economic exile of the Anjouanese to assert the Comorian status of Mayotte. Isolated and miserable, Anjouan had also requested to be attached to France in 1997.

The Anjouanese who have recently arrived in Mayotte have no choice but to settle in wooden and tin houses which house half of the Mahorese population. Their difficulties in obtaining legal status and a minimum of rights in Mayotte keep them in the greatest difficulty in being able to begin a virtuous process of personal and economic development.

It should be noted that a significant portion of illegal immigrants are women number 2 that Mahorais men brought. These women have French children who find themselves in the greatest precariousness when their mothers are expelled from the country.

The Life of Ideas: What is the concrete situation of migrants on the island??

Cyrille Hanappe: The social situation on the island has continued to worsen over the last five years. In a territory where the poverty rate is 80%, THE RSA (the amount of which is half of what it is in the other departments) is only accessible to French people or foreigners who can prove 15 years of legalized presence in the territory. Out of a population of 300,000 inhabitants, only around 5,000 people have access to it.

The covid crisis did not make it possible to provide any help to all those who lived in informal economies. Extreme poverty then transformed into misery for them. The implementation of the law MOMENTUM Mayotte, from 2019, gave prefects the right to destroy slums without trial. Tens of thousands of people found themselves in situations of greater precariousness than ever. The meager networks of social and economic solidarity, the poor access to rights, in particular that of going to school for children, are destroyed with each demolition.

As deportation policies continue unabated, thousands of children have found themselves on the streets without parents. We are now talking about villages of children installed in the forests, who have no other means of survival than theft and plunder. The security situation has become so dire that it has become dangerous to venture onto the roads after dark, at the risk of encountering a violent roadblock set up by wandering young men. This situation of tension and fear is exacerbated by social networks, which inform everyone directly of the slightest news item on the island.

Public services are pitiful levels compared to all other French departments in all areas of the Republic, police, education, health, not to mention the insufficiency and poor organization of transport systems, which mean that the entire North-Eastern part of the island, where the administrative and economic centers are located, served by the only road which circles the island, is a permanent traffic jam every day of the week.

The Life of Ideas: Faced with this dire situation, what was the government’s reaction??

Cyrille Hanappe: The government decided to provide an exclusively security response, by sending 500 additional police officers to the island as part of the operation Wuambushulaunches a major communication boost by the Minister of the Interior at the end of Ramadan, April 23, 2023.

According to official communications, Wuambushu means reprise in Mahorese, but linguists emphasize the notions of initiations, risks and adventures linked to it. In Swahili, the root language of Mahorese, it literally translates as Kill Em. The three objectives of Operation Wuambushu were, in order, the removal of illegal immigrants, the destruction of slums and the reduction of delinquency.

Poorly prepared, the operation began in the greatest disorder, with the refusal of the Comoros to receive the evicted people and the suspension by the courts of the demolitions of shanty towns, while the prefecture was incapable of providing rehousing offers to the evicted people. As for the police, they were overwhelmed, in a territory they did not know, engaged with attackers whom they had the greatest difficulty in containing.

The Life of Ideas: What studies and actions have you carried out in Mayotte as an architect??

Cyrille Hanappe: Invited by the town hall of Mamoudzou, we have been engaged in Mayotte since 2018 to implement spontaneous neighborhood improvement policies inspired by what is done in Latin America. Until the 2000s, such actions had been successfully implemented in the overseas departments, including Mayotte, but everyone seems to have forgotten them.

The dominant Mayotte policies, as carried out by the prefecture in agreement with certain cities, consist of acting through destruction and blank slate with a view to a hypothetical reconstruction which is barely taking shape and which is generally not aimed at the inhabitants of the neighborhood, a mode of action abandoned in all developing countries for decades.

On the contrary, we propose to transform neighborhoods from the bottom, by securing them, by providing water and electricity networks, by setting up secure paths which stabilize the slopes and allow small emergency or maintenance vehicles to circulate. Ultimately, the objective is to propose land stabilization which allows residents to better invest in their housing, to improve the architectural and urban quality of these neighborhoods.

The Life of Ideas: If the migrants are staying (at least a majority of them), how can we ensure that they integrate??

Cyrille Hanappe: Everywhere in the world, the term integration carries great ambiguity, and this is even more the case in Mayotte: the migrants There are essentially Anjouanese, the neighbor with whom cultural differences are slight. Inter-national marriages and lineages have always existed, and in Mayotte there are more births of children to fathers and mothers of two different nationalities than to two French parents.

The essential distinction that can be made between Mahorais and Anjouanais involves de facto on the economic level of each other. It seems that, very often, the term Anjouanese refers above all to the slum dweller, poor and presumed delinquent, whatever their nationality and status. As a reminder, according to the prefect of Mayotte, a third of the inhabitants of slums have French nationality, a third are documented foreigners and a third are undocumented immigrants.

From then on, the Anjouanese carry out most of the arduous work on the island, in an economy whose boundaries between the formal and the informal are often blurred. It has sometimes been assumed that the rejection of the Anjouanese by the Mahorais could be explained by the anxiety of some to see their French status put in danger and, therefore, the necessary affirmation of an ontological differentiation with the Comorian neighbors. Is it in the name of these principles that maintaining the poorest people in misery is a policy that Mayotte assumes??

Still, no one seems to want to see the link between the desperate situation of many of the island's inhabitants and the real security problems of which everyone is increasingly suffering. As everywhere in the world, we can bet that integration is primarily about economic and social issues, particularly that of reducing inequalities.

The Life of Ideas: Let's imagine a little political fiction game. You are the (left) Minister of the Interior. What are you doing?

Cyrille Hanappe: The most terrible and urgent problem in Mayotte is that of lack of water, with water cuts now occurring three days a week. It is therefore necessary to urgently build the necessary reservoirs.

I also ensure that social assistance is accessible to all and at the same level as in other French departments. I am strengthening public services so that they are at levels comparable to other departments, whether education, social services or the police. For the latter, I am developing local police units in the neighborhoods.

Pending the necessary construction of social housing, I am setting up long-term leases for people in the slums, so that they are in a position to improve their housing with peace of mind, and I am setting up various public service networks in the neighborhoods. . Like what is done in Latin America, I make sure to encourage and support all local micro-initiatives relating to the improvement of the living environment. Obviously, we are very far from all that in reality.