• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3
The illegal migrants leaving 'paradise' for a slice of France
A Comoran beach. Photo: David Stanley, via Flickr

The illegal migrants leaving 'paradise' for a slice of France

AFP · 21 Feb 2016, 15:04

Published: 21 Feb 2016 15:04 GMT+01:00

Pregnant, she's ready to risk her life to make the clandestine journey across 70 kilometres (40 miles) of the Indian Ocean to the French overseas territory, where she wants to give birth.

Comoros goes to the polls on Sunday for the first round of its presidential election, with the struggling economy a key issue, but Aicha says she won't vote because "that won't change anything".

Instead, like many Comorans she has her sights set on Mayotte and plans toleave "before Ramadan," which starts in June.

But she still needs to find 500 euros ($550) for the trip. She has no work and her husband is a civil servant whose salary is in arrears.

While the massive flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean and the Aegean to Europe has grabbed global headlines, illegal immigration from poor countries to prosperous ones takes place worldwide.

Among the island nations of the Indian Ocean, Mayotte, consisting of two main islands and numerous islets, is a major though little reported destination for migrants looking for a better life.

As a French overseas "department", Mayotte is considered part of the European Union member, and is more economically successful than neighbouring Comoros.

The gross domestic product of Mayotte is around 7,900 euros per person, compared with 725 euros in Comoros -- a former French colony that opted for independence rather than remaining part of France in 1975.

Many Comorans make the trip to Mayotte in their traditional fishing boat, the kwassa-kwassa, a short but perilous journey. Local police earlier this month recovered three bodies of would-be migrants.

 - 'Cemetery for Comorans' -

Aicha has slipped into Mayotte illegally several times before. She gave birth there to her two oldest children, who have French birth certificates but not yet nationality and currently live in Comoros.

Every time she goes, she gets expelled. And each time, she returns.

"I want to go to Mayotte so my baby will have a French birth certificate and to give my children a better education. I can do housework. Here that pays nothing," she said in her shack on the island of Moroni.

The number of people from Comoros, and also Madagascar, living illegally in Mayotte "could be several tens of thousands," according to the French government auditor.

One top candidate in Sunday's poll, Vice President Mohamed Ali Soilihi, told AFP that "Mayotte will always be an option as long as there is no free circulation of goods and people" among the islands of the archipelago.

"There will always be frustration and this area of the sea will remain a cemetery for Comorans."

Story continues below…

Zainaba, who acts as an intermediary for the operators transporting the illegal migrants, lost a friend two months ago in the sinking of a kwassa-kwassa, but is still determined to send her son to the French island where he was born.

Children born in Mayotte to foreign parents automatically get French nationality at age 18 if they reside in French territory at that date and live there for at least five years on a continuous basis.

"If I find two or three clients, they will take my son for free," she said.

But getting there is only half the battle. Authorities in Mayotte are on the lookout for illegal arrivals to send them back -- nearly 20,000 migrants were made to leave in 2014.

 

Today's headlines
French police 'force woman to remove burqini' on beach
A file photo of a woman in a burqini. Photo: AFP

Pictures have emerged showing armed police officers in southern France apparently forcing a woman to remove her burqini.

Déja vu? Familiar faces in France's presidential race
President Hollande, who hasn't yet announced if he will run, and Nicolas Sarkozy, who is eyeing up the top job next year. Photo: AFP

France is yearning for political renewal, but looks set to be stuck with familiar faces in the presidential race.

France set for scorcher as heatwave continues
Photo: AFP

It's going to be a warm Wednesday, with temperatures forecast to soar across the whole country.

Frenchman 'kills Brit in stabbing rampage' in Australia
Photo: AFP

A Frenchman allegedly killed a British woman and stabbed three others in an Australian backpacker's hostel.

Top court set to probe France's burqini ban
Photo: AFP

Is the burqini ban legal? France will soon find out.

Heatwave warnings extended as France keeps sizzling
Photo: AFP

UPDATED: Summer is back, and Paris is among the areas hit the hardest.

200 street signs in France mysteriously 'blacked out'
Photo: thecrazyfilmgirl/Flickr

Town officials have come to a dead end.

Woman fined for wearing headscarf on Cannes beach
File photo: Loic Venance/AFP

Headscarves should not be included under the recent burqini ban, but one woman says she was fined and insulted for wearing the hijab.

Paris tourism has lost €750 million since terror attacks
Tourists outside the Louvre. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP

A Paris tourist chief has called it "an industrial catastrophe".

Sudanese migrant killed in Calais clashes
Photo: AFP

A Sudanese man has died in Calais after a fight with other refugees.

Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
How to keep cool during France's heatwave
Sponsored Article
5 reasons to try dating in Paris with The Inner Circle
Society
Ten mistakes to avoid when dating a Frenchman
Society
Twelve 'French' things that aren't actually French at all
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
'World's priciest home' on sale in French Riviera for €1 billion
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Lifestyle
RECIPE: How to make the tastiest ratatouille
National
Paris sees Europe's biggest plunge in 'liveability'
National
Life on the home front in rural France's 'war on terror'
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Features
Weird facts you didn't know about the French language
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Society
Paris foodie event cancelled over lack of security
How to tackle six of the trickiest French verbs
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
Summer in France - 'the ideal time to find a job'
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
National
'Burqini bans will only divide France more'
National
French vineyards revive horse-drawn ploughs
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
French mayor bans Pokemon Go app from his village
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
'To boycott France is to surrender to terrorists'
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
21 photos to make you want to come to France right now
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Society
This is how much the French are obsessed with cheese
National
French MP's call for Facebook ID cards blasted 'as idiotic'
Travel
Summer checklist: Fourteen great travel ideas for France
Travel
Here's why France is still world's top tourist destination
'Wealthy American tourists' snub France over terror fears
National
Where to go swimming in France (and where to avoid)
Society
23 subtle signs you'll never quite master French
2,734
jobs available