French authorities destroy shanty town on Indian Ocean island of Mayotte

A bulldozer knocking down part of the shanty town in Mayotte.
A bulldozer knocking down part of the shanty town in Mayotte. Copyright AFP
Copyright AFP
By Mark Armstrong with AFP
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France deploys hundreds of police officers to oversee the destruction of a slum on the island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean in an operation authorities say is aimed at curbing sub-standard housing and illegal migration.

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Operation Wuambushu started in the early hours of Monday morning when diggers moved in to start knocking down sheet metal homes in the Talus 2 slum on Mayotte.  

Gendarmes wielding crowbars entered the homes to check no one was inside before the destruction began, AFP journalists reported, while the electricity and water supply was cut.

Officially the reason is to get rid of substandard, illegal housing but it is also to expel illegal migrants.

Residents of the neighbourhood could only look on helplessly as homes were demolished. 

"I have been working since 2001, and until now I have never stopped working," explained Fatima Youssouf. "I am one of the hard-working women in this world to raise my seven children. I work and contribute like everyone else. And today I'm being taken out as, I don't know .... I pay my taxes, I pay my dues when I have to, I contribute like everyone else."

The operation is due to last all week, Psylvia Dewas, the local official in charge of reducing illegal housing, told reporters.

Some 135 dwellings will be razed out of around 1,000 sub-standard homes slated for destruction on Mayotte.

The demolition of Talus 2 was originally scheduled to take place on April 25 but was suspended by a court decision. Two subsequent legal rulings then authorised the French state to proceed.

Associations have denounced Wuambushu as a "brutal" measure violating the rights of migrants, but local elected officials and many residents have supported it.

The operation initially triggered clashes between youths and security forces on Mayotte and fuelled political tensions, with most of the French island's undocumented migrants coming from the neighbouring archipelago.

Out of Mayotte's estimated 350,000 residents, half do not possess French nationality.

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