It is almost inconceivable that any French government would contemplate forcing Mayotte into joining the Union against the will of the Mahorais. Indeed, the new French Ambassador to Comoros announced in February 2015 that ‘Mayotte will never be Comorian’ (Indian Ocean Times 2015). Likewise, the Union government remains equally determined to assert its sovereignty over Mayotte, a position supported by International Law and reiterated by President Dhoinine before the UN General Assembly in 2012.
Given the gulf in the, at least perceived, economic opportunities in the Union and on Mayotte, and given the geographical reality that a journey of just 70km, albeit a potentially deadly journey, separates the developing and developed worlds, policy options for any French government will be necessarily limited. Following the 2012 elections in France, two competing proposals were advanced. The recommendations of the senators, at least superficially, address the fundamental issue of the Balladur visa, the most concrete example of the unbalanced relationship between France and its former colony. However, the scope of the proposed replacement visa is far from a fundamental reimagining of the sovereign status of the archipelago. Whilst certainly more compassionate than the Balladur visa, or indeed the Balladur visa after Christnacht’s very circumscribed amendments, giving Comorians from the Union the right to occasionally visit Mayotte, but not the right to work, can only be a step towards a more sustainable solution. Both proposals obliquely recognise that only a convincing rise in the quality of life on the Union islands would stem the flow of irregular migrants. However, there is little indication to date that France is willing, or able, to go beyond palliative measures.
In a letter to migration advocacy groups prior to his election, Hollande promised, ‘if I am elected President of the Republic, to end in May 2012, the holding of [migrant] children and, therefore, families with children’ (Liberation 2014). However, faced by the reality of the number of children and families with children being intercepted on Mayotte, Hollande has failed to keep this promise. Indeed, the numbers of those held by the authorities in 2013, invariably in unsuitable facilities, increased to 3,512 children being held in detention (Liberation 2014).
In July 2014, faced with a continuation of the status quo, the Governor of Anjouan, Anissi Chamsidine, made a populist declaration offering his support for those who choose to travel by kwassa kwassa to Mayotte, noting that it was practically impossible for the Anjouan authorities to prevent these embarkations and, in any case, since Mayotte was under domestic and International Law part of the Union, it would be unlawful to try to stop them (Comores News 2014). A provocation to the French authorities, and intended for internal political consumption, his remarks, nonetheless, highlight the persistence of a colonial legacy that, despite being played out thousands of miles from Europe’s shores, mirrors the desperate dynamics of irregular migration across the Mediterranean.