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Comoran mayors protest operation "Wuambushu" in Mayotte to repatriate migrants

Comoran mayors   -  
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A dozen mayors from several towns on the Comoran island of Anjouan protest on the streets of the capital Mutsamudu against France's controversial operation "Wuambushu", aimed at kicking out undocumented migrants, many of them Comorans, from the French island of Mayotte.

According to Zarouki Bouchrane, the mayor of Mutsamudu, his city "cannot accommodate" all the people regularly expelled from Mayotte. The archipelago Comoros is refusing to accept people deported from Mayotte, saying it cannot cope with the influx.

The move by French authorities has in recent days triggered clashes between youths and security forces on the French island of Mayotte and fuelled political tensions with the Comoros.

Two diggers on Thursday morning demolished the shanties in the Longoni neighbourhood on the north of the island in less than an hour, AFP reporters at the scene said.

The prefect of Mayotte, Thierry Suquet, said the "small slum" was being cleared after a December court order to make way for a vocational training institute.

He told reporters the settlement, which had once housed around 10 families, no longer had permanent inhabitants and alternative housing had been offered to those using it as a temporary shelter.

But 32-year-old Zarianti Bina told AFP the sudden demolition had come as a surprise.

"My mother lives here," she said.

"I only learnt they were coming yesterday. We have been contesting this for a year, but we got no prior warning."

"No solution has been provided," she added.

- No deportations -

Suquet reported violence overnight in the town of Mamoudzou, where police arrested one person after youths tried to set fire to "vehicles and buildings".

Some 1,800 members of the French security forces -- including hundreds from Paris -- have been deployed for Operation Wuambushu, which aims to improve living conditions and security for Mayotte locals.

But its start was delayed when a court in Mamoudzou ordered a last-minute halt to the clearance Tuesday of a much larger slum called Talus 2 in Koungou, a decision that is being appealed.

The operation also faces a political hurdle from the Comoros, whose three islands lie to the northwest.

The archipelago is refusing to accept people deported from Mayotte, saying it cannot cope with the influx.

On Monday, the Comoros suspended docking authorisation for boats arriving from Mayotte. Expelled migrants are usually taken to the port of Mutsamudu on Anjouan island, 70 kilometres (45 miles) from the French island.

On Thursday, port authorities chief Mohamed Salim Dahalani told a press conference the suspension was being lifted, although only passengers "with their national identity card" would be allowed to disembark.

But the SGTM ferry company then announced it was suspending crossings between Mayotte and the Comoros "given the current context, which hinders smooth operations".

The message was posted on Facebook and distributed to the firm's employees.

Half of Mayotte's roughly 350,000 population is estimated to be foreign, mostly Comoran.

Many are suspected of destroying their ID after arriving on the island to prevent being sent back home or to try to pass themselves off as minors.

- Insecurity -

Mayotte is the fourth island of the Comoros archipelago, which was once all a French territory.

France retained control over Mayotte after a 1974 referendum, but the island is still claimed by the three-island Union of the Comoros.

It is France's poorest department with around 80 percent of the population living beneath the poverty line and high levels of social delinquency.

But it also benefits from French infrastructure, support and welfare, and this has encouraged an influx from the Comoros. Many migrants attempt the hazardous crossing on rickety boats used by smugglers.

Residents have told AFP they support the idea of expulsions, accusing migrants of fuelling insecurity.

Fatihou Ibrahime, who heads a citizens' association, said violence had increased on the island since 2015.

"It all started with petty theft, and we played it down, saying it was just hungry people stealing to survive," he said.

"But now we're at the point where there are murderers and people breaking and entering with machetes," he added, pointing to a scar on his head from a machete blow during a burglary.

Several hundred locals, most of them women, staged a rally Thursday at a stadium in the southern town of Chirongi, urging the government to intensify Operation Wuambushu.

They held up banners reading "Stop giving out residence permits" and "Thank you, heroes of the security forces".

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