By S.G. Kazolias. They are Black. They are African. They are serious practicing Muslims. They are French citizens. And they vote for extreme right wing anti-immigrant candidates. The “natives” of the French Indian Ocean “Department” of Mayotte launched a general strike February 22, barricading roads, occupying public facilities and shutting down the island. Basically, they want more generous French subsidies to Mayotte, more police, more infrastructure development and an end to lawlessness which they blame on massive illegal immigration.
The Maore demand the French President, or the Prime Minister, come to talk to them or they will take law into their own hands and, yes, get violent.
“Expel all illegal immigrants!” This is one of the main demands of Mayotte – an island “illegally annexed” from the Comoros at the time of independence from France in 1975. The French maintain a military base there and its presence gives Paris control over a huge exclusive zone of economic interest.
When France ignores international law
Although the people of Mayotte chose to be French in a series of referenda, the move went against international law. The United Nations General Assembly voted Mayotte be given back to the Comoros (1). There have been some 20 General Assembly Resolutions demanding France cede Mayotte to the Comoros. The African Union also ruled continued French occupation of Mayotte illegal and demand its return to the Comoros. (France vetoed a Security Council resolution in 1976 which was supported by 11 of the 15 members).
The choice for the Maore in the referenda was simple: remain a highly subsidized French citizen with an open door to Europe or join one of the poorest and unstable of African countries, live in dire poverty, suffer disease and raise illiterate children. The Comoros have suffered some twenty coups d’Etat and attempted coups, often with French involvement, since Independence.
The presence of radical Islam
There is no question that the people of Mayotte are happy to be French and totally reject the presence of Comoran migrants on their island even though their language, customs, Muslim religion, gastronomy, etc., are completely “Comoran.” This has posed problems such as getting them to adapt to French common law in place of traditional Sharia. At the time of the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks, for example, when I was a producer for France TV in Paris, journalists at the state-run FranceO-Mayotte subsidiary radio and television station refused to run some stories which condemned the al-Qaeda inspired attack and other reports which praised the weekly. Paris did nothing.
Already in 2011, Maore French Senator, Thani Soilihi, warned of Jihadi cells in Mayotte which he attributed to the “blight of illegal immigration.” Soilihi told FranceO TV that “it would be utopian to think Mayotte has been spared.” The Island is 95% Muslim.
Yet, in the 2017 Presidential elections, Mayotte voted overwhelmingly for two hardline, anti-immigrant, candidates who denounced Islamic radicalism and favored laws imposing secularism on Muslims : 33% voted for François Fillion (Les Républicains) and 28% for Marine Le Pen (Front National). Emmanuel Macron came in a poor third at 19%.
Anchor babies and social services
The problems in Mayotte are real. Seventy percent of the children born in the Maternity Clinic are of foreign parents (Comoran and Malgassy). In fact it is the maternity clinic with the most births in all of France: 10,000 a year. Because of undocumented mothers giving birth in the French hospital and illegal migration, the population has grown 20% in just five years! Children born “in France” of foreign parents, legal and illegal, can claim French citizenship at 18. Twenty-one percent of native Maore were born of a migrant mother and 48% of those aged between18 and 24. Practically half of the population is under 14, which means the percentage of ‘anchor children’ is even higher.
The immigrants make up some 60% of the population of 256 thousand, mostly Comoran (95%), and over half of them are undocumented. The population is projected to reach half a million by 2050. This creates a strain on infrastructure and illegal immigration is blamed for sky-rocketing criminality. Only 15% of native Maore live on the island permanently. (2,3)
Some take their welfare and unemployment checks to nearby Madagascar or the Comoros where they can live royally on what they are allotted, as I learned working for FranceO from reporters in the other French Indian Ocean Department, La Réunion. I saw this for myself when in Madagascar. There are also an estimated 15,000 Maores in the southern French city of Marseille, half of them under the age of 20, who often make the headlines for drug trafficking and gang violence.
More than 33% of the population has not been to school. French state investment cannot keep up with the galloping demography. Only a third of the active population is employed, compared to 64% in France. Unemployment rose six points since 2009: now officially 13% and salaries are on average 25% lower than mainland France while inflation is twice as high. However, French politicians say you can live a year in Mayotte on one month of mainland minimum salary: 1,173 euros net per month.
The informal economy and “black-off-the-books” labor, are hurting local businesses too. Insecurity due to inactive and unschooled migrant youth dissuade tourists, the Maore say. There are an estimated 3,000 parentless street kids in Mayotte (as compared to 4,000 in all of metropolitan France).
Mayotte costs the French tax-payer an arm-and-a-leg: Nearly one-and-a-half billion euros a year or some 4,000 euros per habitant. (5) It’s not only about the hospitals catering to undocumented migrants. Half the population receives monthly welfare payments and the number of households on the program grew 180% from 2012 to 2015.
In order to persuade French civil servants (teachers, nurses, policemen, administrators etc.) to go to Mayotte, the French government pays them salaries 40% to 50% higher than on the continent and free tickets for them and their families to return home for vacation. These expatriots also get free shipping and high-end subsidized civil servant housing.
Mayotte lives off of the French fiscal intravenous; 54% of salaried employees are on the public payroll. Paris has invested heavily in infrastructure (roads, airports, public services) and public housing.
Mayotte could lead to a change in the French Constitution
Not many French politicians are willing to admit publicly that Mayotte was a bad and costly idea. They need the votes from Mayotte at election time. However, there are many voices calling for an end to Jus Soli or birthright citizenship in Mayotte and go to Jus Sanguinis, or “blood” inheritance rights. As it would be unconstitutional for one part of France to be denied the same rights as the rest of “the nation”, it could be an excellent opportunity to change the constitution to Jus Sanguinis for all. This is something President Giscard d’Estaing advocated in the 1970s. (5) It has been a battle cry for the far-right National Front since its beginning in 1972. Now traditional conservatives are taking up the theme.
Whatever the outcome, France is at last beginning to realize it can no longer finance its illusions de grandeur and that La Grande Nation has to start thinking smaller. It would be nice if they practiced what they preach by respecting international law rather than amputating part of a country for purely selfish reasons. They could always do more to help their former colonies develop even when they don’t have uranium, oil or gold.
Notes and Links
- UN Resolution 1514 on decolonization of December 14, 1960 clearly states in Article 4 “the integrity of their national territory shall be respected.” And Article 6: “Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” There have also been some 20 UN resolutions calling on France to return Mayotte to the Comoros. Notably N° 3385, N° 49/18 and 49/151. http://www.un.org/en/decolonization/declaration.shtml
- Giscard was born of French parents in the German city of Cologne.