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Operation “Wuambushu”: in the Comoros, the government’s compromise and the anger of returnees from Mayotte


It is agitated, it shouts, it jostles around the port of Mutsamudu, on the Comoros archipelago. In a moist heat, The Citadel has just landed on the island of Anjouan, 60 km from Mayotte, with 90 expelled from the French island on board. This is the boat’s fourth trip in a week.

The gendarmes and the Comorian customs cordon off the area. The port, usually open, is no longer accessible. Neither to the families, nor to the media, not even to the governor of Anjouan, a fierce opponent of the “Wuambushu” operation (“recovery”, in Mahorais), which intends to destroy unsanitary housing and fight against illegal immigration and insecurity in Mayotte. Initially, the French authorities wanted to carry out 20,000 deportations to the border, before halving this objective. Since the beginning of the expulsions, Monday, May 22, around 200 deportees have reached Anjouan.

The Comorian government first tried to engage in a standoff with France, refusing to welcome those expelled and closing its ports to ships from the neighboring island for three weeks. But he ended up giving in under pressure from Paris. Since May 17, the Comoros have officially received candidates for “voluntary departure” from Mayotte, a territory of which they nevertheless claim sovereignty.

“I will go back there as soon as possible”

In Mutsamudu, no one is fooled. Foreigners in an irregular situation rejected by France did not choose to return to the Comoros. “Volunteer”, Ibrahim Saïd Hamadi is absolutely not. He arrives in Mutsamudu exhausted, angry, simply dressed in a Coca-Cola T-shirt and a blue pocket that contains a handful of documents.

“I spent twenty-four days in a detention center in Mayotte. They threatened to leave me another month in prison if I did not return to the Comoros”, he growls. When the boat docked in Mutsamudu, his travel documents were confiscated by Comorian customs. You must not leave any traces of this journey. “It had ‘volunteer’ written on it, but I didn’t agree at all! »he shouts.

The young man, landed illegally in Mayotte in 2018 by kwassa-kwassa (a light boat used for the crossing), left behind his wife, French, and his three children, also French. Her banga (sheet metal house) in the Doujani district, in Mamoudzou, capital of the 101e French department, was destroyed in March by the authorities, already as part of the fight against unsanitary housing.

“I will go back there as soon as possible.he confides. It’s a matter of two or three days, I wait for my wife to send me some money and I’m off. » For this, he will take a clandestine route and embark once again on a kwassa-kwassa. It is not a taboo in Mutsamudu. Like Ibrahim Saïd Hamadi, several men expelled by France since the start of Operation “Wuambushu” have already reached the shores of Mayotte illegally. Sometimes they came back the day after their expulsion.

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The Citadel is caught in the crossfire. In Mayotte, the anger against the illegal immigrants, accused of stealing the work of the Mahorais and of being at the origin of the insecurity on the island, is so strong that it was necessary to prove that the migrants were indeed on board the boat. But in Anjouan, everything is done to hide the deportees upon their arrival in the Comoros. “The police watch our ship on the quay at night and sometimes escort us”, admits an employee of the shipping company SGTM, which operates the deportations to the borders. He fears reprisals from Comorian nationalist committees.

Discontent rumbles over the mountainous Anjouan, 330,000 inhabitants, to where the illegal immigrants are sent. The mayors of the island have vigorously rejected, by press release, “the forced dumping in the port of Mutsamudu of Comorians living in Mayotte”. More significantly still, an elected official from the opposition filed a double petition before the Supreme Court of the Comoros on Wednesday to suspend the “Wuambushu” operation and dismiss President Azali Assoumani, whom he accuses of ” high treason “.

“Clandestine is our only option”

By dint of compromise, the Comorian government finds itself in a most uncomfortable position. On the one hand, he demands the return of Mayotte to the Comoros, a demand supported by multiple United Nations resolutions. On the other side, behind the scenes, he is constantly making concessions with Paris, which, thanks to its status as the first commercial partner, has means of pressure.

Wasn’t the end of the crisis on this migrant file moreover negotiated in Paris, at the beginning of May, during an interview behind closed doors at the Elysee Palace between Emmanuel Macron and Azali Assoumani? Since then, other Comorian ministers have been asked to travel to Paris, as well as the noisy governor of Anjouan, to meet members of the French government there.


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“We were able to remind several ministers that they had dual Comorian and French nationality”, confides, scathingly, a close collaborator of the French Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, referring to recent bilateral meetings. The Comorian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dhoihir Dhoulkamal, is under investigation for alleged fraud in social benefits in France.

Also read the interview: “In Mayotte, Comorians are not foreigners”

This may be one of the reasons that explain Moroni’s retreat on the “Wuambushu” file. If the Comoros speak of constructive dialogue with “the friend that is France”the opponents shout at the ” treason “. “The Comorian State knelt down in France and invented this concept of “voluntary departures” to ease tensionsjudge Saïd Ali Ibouroi, a member of the opposition. I am ashamed that Azali Assoumani, as the current president of the African Union since February, is being abused like this by France. Why doesn’t he issue a press release on Mayotte, as he does on other issues such as Ukraine? »

More diplomatic and a bit resigned, the spokesperson for the mayors of Anjouan, Mohamed Abdou Nassim, recognizes that “the Comoros simply do not have the means to stand up to France”. It is from his commune of Moya, in the south of the island, that the majority of kwassa-kwassa to Mayotte. “I myself took it three times to go to the French island to see relatives and to take my father to the hospital”he asserts bluntly.

Since 1995, Comorians have had to obtain a “Balladur visa” to travel to Mayotte, whereas they were previously exempt. Free movement allowed frequent exchanges between these sister islands, over which members of the same family are often divided. “Today with the Balladur visa, hiding becomes our only option”says Mohamed Abdou Nassim.

“Many young people are smugglers”

Below, on Moya beach surrounded by volcanic rocks, you just have to take a few steps to come across a smuggler. They operate in full view of the local authorities. At 21, Ahmed (first name has been changed), tall, slender and with a face still hollowed out by the salt, pilots his kwassa-kwassa for four years, an activity that earned him a year behind bars in Mayotte. “It’s the only profitable activity. Here, many young people are smugglers, there is no other choice, there is no hope or work in the Comoros”, assures the young man. In good months, he collects 2,000 euros, or about fifteen times the average salary on the archipelago. The Comoros are placed at 156e world ranking in the human development ranking.

The illegal passages towards France are carried out at night, in boats where about thirty people gather. The crossing takes less than two hours and is all the easier as it takes place with the complicity of certain coastguards. “Often, we “rinse” them in advance so that they close their eyes”, warns Youssouf, a Comorian coastguard who wishes to remain anonymous. He himself smuggled illegal immigrants into France for years, adding cigarette smuggling to his business. “The fight against the kwassa-kwassa is not effective, even the speedboats delivered by France to the Comoros are almost no longer in service”he smiles.

In this Lampedusa in the Indian Ocean, as some people call this arm of the sea between Anjouan and Mayotte, around 20,000 passengers have died in two decades, engulfed by the vagaries of the high seas. To avoid this humanitarian tragedy, Moroni asks the lifting of the Balladur visa. A request to which Paris remains deaf.

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In 2019, the two countries had found common ground: a partnership agreement in which France undertook to invest 150 million euros in development aid over four years to, among other things, work in favor of a “rational management of the movement of people”. “The goal is to fix populations through development projects”, says Houmed Msaidié, the government spokesman. Four years later, obviously, the goal has not been achieved.

“It’s grotesque, says Saindou Ali Assane, chief of staff to the governor of Anjouan. For example, we obtained a project from the French Development Agency in Sadapouani, in the south of the island, but in this village the majority of the inhabitants nevertheless left for Mayotte. » The desire to join the French island would be irrepressible, combining economic, family but also health reasons, to compensate for the virtual absence of care in Anjouan.

Saindou Somahila, 23, has just been disembarked from the ship The Citadel under police escort. This is the fourth time he has been expelled. Despite this, he is preparing to return to Mayotte once again “to find the means to survive”, he said, his gaze lost under his black cap. “My life is there”, he claims before explaining that his wife and his masonry company are waiting for him. He curses: “I’m more of a Mayotte resident than an Anjouan resident, but they don’t accept me there! »