Sarkozy visits France's tropical new department

19th January 2010, Comments 0 comments

The French president is in Mayotte to discuss the immigration problems on the island.

Mamoudzou – President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived Monday in Mayotte, a tiny Indian Ocean island plagued by illegal immigration that last year voted to become an integral part of France.

Sarkozy met officials to discuss the immigration problems on the island, where around a third of the 200,000 residents have illegally entered from the nearby Comoros islands.

He paid tribute to local police and soldiers working to combat illegal immigration to the island, a target for thousands of raft-borne migrants from the Comoros islands 70 kilometres (43 miles) away.

"I know very well that here, considering the geographical context, your mission is much harder than elsewhere," Sarkozy said.

In Paris the interior ministry released figures on Monday showing more than 29,000 illegal immigrants were expelled from French soil last year -- but Sarkozy said half of expulsions were from Mayotte alone.

"A lot of money is spent in taking them back to the border, but without much effect, to judge by the number of immigrants that keep arriving," said Patrick Lilledieu, local coordinator for the humanitarian aid group Medecins du Monde.

Mayotte's mostly Muslim people last year voted for their island to ditch its French-ruled "collectivity" status and become a department of France. It is richer than the other islands of the Comoros archipelago, but still much poorer than European countries.

Violent protests broke out there just last month against the high cost of living.

Sarkozy promised development measures including launching digital television in Mayotte and state support to help fund the building of more schools and homes.

Sarkozy later left Mayotte to fly on to La Reunion, another island in the Indian Ocean that is part of France.

A year ago, La Reunion too was hit by strikes and rioting, along with France's Caribbean islands Guadeloupe and Martinique, against high prices and low wages.

Martinique and French Guiana, the South American territory wedged between Brazil and Suriname, voted against more autonomy from Paris in a referendum earlier this month dominated by fears of losing French state support.

AFP / Expatica

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