A fork in the road
As with other policy areas, the election of Hollande to the presidency and the victory of the Parti socialiste (PS) and its allies in the 2012 elections, encouraged an expectation of a change in the status quo. In the wake of the elections, two reports on the Mayotte ‘question’ have appeared. One is a report to the Senate compiled by two PS senators, Jean-Pierre Sueur and Felix Desplan, working with an opposition senator from the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), Christian Cointat. The second was commissioned by the ministers of foreign affairs; interior and overseas territories and compiled by a senior civil servant, conseilleur d’etat, Alain Christnacht. On the key issue of the Balladur visa these reports come to opposite conclusions.
The Senate report is highly critical of the existing state of affairs regarding irregular migration to Mayotte and the treatment of irregular migrants on the island. In particular, the senators call for an end to the Balladur visa and its replacement with a new visa that would only be valid in Mayotte, rather than in metropolitan France. They emphasise the significant financial, physical and human resources that are currently being employed to intercept and deport irregular migrants. Their recommendation is that all Union citizens wanting to visit Mayotte should be granted a visa for a period of between one and three months, granting the right to visit, but not to work. Resources currently expended on interception and, in particular, deportation could then be diverted to regulate these migrant visitors through biometric authentication. For the senators, this change in the conditions of entry would, at the same time, reset, but also be dependent on, a renewal of relations between France/ Mayotte and the Union:
The objective is not to abandon immigration control policy, but to couple it with a new policy of regional cooperation ... all the people heard [by the senators] say that the issue of illegal immigration into Mayotte cannot be sustainably resolved without prior normalisation of relations between France and the Comoros. (Sueur et al. 2012)
Christnacht rejects this approach. On the basis that the numbers attempting to enter Mayotte remain substantial, he concludes that there is no alternative other than to retain the Balladur visa and further securitise the border through more air and sea surveillance and patrols. He also recommends an intensified policy of targeting undocumented workers on Mayotte which he considers the key driver of irregular migration. Christnacht agrees with the senators that a new relationship with the Union is needed, but would restrict any changes to the visa to a relaxation of the conditions for entry in very specific cases, notably to access medical facilities or for business travel. As an incentive for the Union to support this policy, Christnacht recommends increased development assistance from France to the Union, especially in the areas of health and education, and a drive to promote trade between Anjouan and Mayotte. In return, France would expect the Union, both in terms of policy and in practical ways, to work with France to combat people smuggling. Further recommendations that correspond with the senators’ report concern remedial spending to address the overcrowding at Pamandzi CRA and the treatment of children left by their parents on Mayotte.
As anticipated, given that its ministers had commissioned the report, the government has sought to implement Christnacht’s recommendations. In June 2013, a declaration of friendship and cooperation between France and Comoros was signed coinciding with the finalisation of a defence pact between the two countries. This was followed a year later by a draft agreement concerning the ‘trafficking’ (sic) of persons. This agreement elaborates the Christnacht proposal to maintain the Balladur visa, but incorporate flexibility in the cases of businesspeople; persons participating in scientific, cultural and artistic activities; top athletes; persons needing regular medical attention on Mayotte subject to financial guarantees; spouses and other relatives providing that already hold a valid titre de sejour for Mayotte needing to visit Mayotte to attend a funeral.
The draft agreement has been vigorously opposed by national and international pressure groups and political parties. The non-governmental refugee support organisation, groupe d’information et de soutien des immigre-e-s (gisti), has described the agreement as facilitating travel to Mayotte for a Comorian elite who, in return, would tacitly agree to help France intercept their compatriots.