One of the exits from the shanty town in the Kawéni district of Mayotte, France’s 101st department in the Comoros archipelago. Photo by Morgan Fache

The Comoros archipelago lies in the Strait of Mozambique, close to Madagascar. The French overseas territory of Mayotte is part of the archipelago – but also a different world.

Colonially owned since 1841, Mayotte has been France’s 101st department since 2011. Here, people pay in euros. There are French laws and state aid. Every child goes to school. 

Just 30 km away in the Comoros, public services are in tatters, corruption is rife and natural resources are scarce. There have been 20 coups d’état in 40 years, and the current dictator, Azali Assoumani, has gained notoriety as possibly the worst yet.

Many Comorians have fled because of political persecution, most of them to Mayotte. There are now more illegal immigrants on Mayotte than registered citizens – and Mayotte has the largest slum in the European Union, with almost 25,000 inhabitants.

‘Inhumane laws’

In response to the surge in irregular migration, the French government has passed special laws for the area, which human rights organisations describe as inhumane.

France has revoked the birthright to citizenship and foreigners with asylum on Mayotte are not allowed to travel to France. Some 86 percent of asylum requests are denied and deportations are fast-tracked and take less than 12 hours.

Meanwhile, the rights of courts to stop deportations have been hollowed out. More than half of France’s deportations happen on Mayotte. 

The European Court of Human Rights has found France guilty of several human rights abuses, in several different court cases. But the practices continue. And proudly so. In a recent interview, France’s interior minister spoke proudly about the achievements of the French state in Mayotte.

This investigation by freelancers Fabian Federl and Morgan Fache takes us to the heart of a migration and human rights crisis playing out on an EU frontier in the Indian Ocean, far from the public eye. 

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