Security operations continued in the French Indian Ocean island of Mayotte on Thursday as part of its ongoing operation to expel illegal migrants, with police clashing with young people overnight.
"We are continuing to secure Mayotte, especially in the neighbourhoods where we have gangs of delinquents," said Prefect Thierry Suquet said at a press briefing on Thursday morning.
France recently launched "Operation Wuambushu" or “Take Back”, deploying some 1,800 members of the security forces to remove illegal migrants who have settled in slums on the island, most of them from neighbouring Comoros.
The operation is purportedly as part of its fight against delinquency and unsanitary housing. Crime is rampant on the island which is France’s poorest department.
Only half the estimated 350,000 people living on the island are French nationals. Most of the others are illegal migrants from the neighbouring Republic of Comoros, made up of Grande Comore, Mohéli, and Anjouan islands, which chose independence from France in a 1974 referendum.
But one young anonymous migrant says the delinquency is not only about Comorans.
"Of course, it's young people who were born to families from the Comoros. But by being born in France, they have the nationality, they are French. So it's a mixture, and to come and accuse the Comoros directly, I don't agree with that," he said.
On Tuesday, a French court ruling halted the controversial expulsion of migrants from at least one neighbourhood near the capital at the last minute, saying the action had no legal foundation and threatened public liberties.
While the local administration said it would appeal, people in the area celebrated. Many of the illegal migrants have lived part or, in some cases all of their lives on the French island.
"I am afraid, because being repatriated to the Comoros is something that will really hurt me and I will be disoriented,” said a young migrant.
“I can’t say that I don't know anyone, because my mother is there, but I don't know the Comoran culture itself, and I don't know how people live there, I don't know how to speak."
France says it plans to expel the illegal migrants to Anjouan, the closest Comorian island to Mayotte.
But Moroni last week said it would not accept people expelled under the plan that has triggered tensions between the two countries.