Trigger to reflection

Nowadays, almost half of 350,000 inhabitants of Mayotte (French archipelago in Indian Ocean) do not have French nationality. Among the population living in the slums, only a third of the inhabitants have it.

Since last April the French authorities have deployed hundreds of police and gendarmes at the prefecture of Mayotte to carry out a series of interventions under the name of Wuambushu (“recovery” in Shimaore). This operation aims to reduce unsanitary housing, fight against crime and expel irregular migrants, mostly from the neighbouring archipelago of the Comoros.

The French government provides the means to reach these objectives. The French Minister of Interior Gérald Darmanin announced the extension of the operation Wuambushu on June 24 during his trip to Mayotte’s regiment in Combani in the centre of Grande-Terre. He specified that the intervention would be extended by “more than a month” then, and the “second phase of operation” would begin in September, targeting, through legal proceedings, illegal farming and fishing, as well as slum traders. Gérald Darmanin also said that he is in favour of the construction of the second administrative detention centre, where migrants, waiting for the deportation, would be locked up. As to build up consequentially required logistic routes and “their” destinations, the Minister announced that he intends to go “to Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Mozambique after the summer holidays to negotiate readmission agreements” with these countries from which, some of the illegal migrants originate.

On a balancing note, he also assured that he is in favour of moving some of the refugees, who had been granted asylum, to the mainland (France).

The currently achieved results of the operation are rather modest, so far. The judge Safina Souls insists that “there needs to be a lot more destruction of slums, sanctions for slum merchants and more border control”.

The control of illegal migration had to be reinforced by expulsions, with a target of 150 to 400 daily removals, compared to an average of 70% per day in 2022. However, expulsions were disrupted by the shutdown of maritime links with the Comoros for almost a month.

The third key objective of Wuambushu – the fight against crime, is hampered by prison’s overcrowding. The only prison on the island had been blocked as from the beginning of June by prison guards due to the occupancy rate reaching 230%.
So far, it seems, the objectives do not necessary match the means.

Human congregations and settlements
The number of institutional (under control of state or under umbrella of humanitarian aid organizations) and makeshift migrant camps (created by their own dwellers) show skyrocketing increase in the recent years. Military conflicts, ecological problems, urban insecurity and lack of economic prospects push millions of people to move to safer destinations.

The makeshift camps have increasingly become a permanent presence along border areas and in cities around the world, constituting, according to urban researchers, a “hidden geography” that is crucial for observation of mobility of thousands of migrants each year and essential to understanding modern informal migration. Europe, for example, is confronted with the emergence of a new “archipelago” of such camps resulting from the growing presence of irregular migrants. Informal camps have thus appeared recently in European cities such as Paris, Rome Budapest, Belgrade, Brussels and Athens, among others. Meanwhile, the majority of makeshift camps are located outside of the European Union.

The makeshift camps become one of sources and base grounds of developing parallel reality and parallel society. The formally set objectives of local politics and operations like Wuambushu are usually driven by the “official” society, while the parallel society remains ignorant of these objectives and unsupportive as to the means deployed for reaching these objectives, at best.

Drivers leading to creation of improvised (makeshift) migrants’ camps are, most commonly, related to several circumstances:

  • Camps could be set up at the national border zones, where local law enforcement and state border control interrupt journeys of migrants. The border, in this context, could be either or both, land as well as maritime. Makeshift camps have also emerged close to places where migrants are being suspended en route, such as Calais, Dunkirk and Patras, or in border regions and along established routes, like in northern Serbia and northern Bosnia-Herzegovina, Northern Italy, on the border of Belarus with EU countries, USA-Mexican border etc.
  • They could be set up along routes leading to borders, wherever such routes are rather long, and migrants could not get over in one shot.
  • They could be set up in the cities, larger or smaller, which migrants use as temporarily points towards other destinations.
  • They could be set up in cities presumed as final countries-destinations, whenever authorities cannot manage influx of mass arrivals and giving them a place at institutional camp(s) ( result of the backlog problem), or whenever migrants want to stay in a country even after authorities declined their demands, thus, leaving people without a place to stay;
  • On another side, improvised camps could be set up at symbolic locations (churches, near state institutions etc.) to attract attention to their habitants’ dire then-current situation.

The makeshift camps are often created in urban environments, gravitating towards areas inside or near train or bus stations, both being central nodes of national and transnational mobility. Migration logistics plays an important role in “suggesting” areas of interest, where migrants’ presence is settled temporarily and/or quasi-permanently.

Consideration on basic supplies is another trend when a makeshift camp is constructed not far from a state camp, the latter providing some sort of assistance. Migrants would like to use offered facilities without a need of registration, as the official camp will surely demand. That is a scheme when migrants have another geographical destination in mind and use a camp as a temporary place of stay. Basically, within this context, migrants are characterized by increased readiness and mobility, more often than not, coming from the fear that registered inhabitants could be easier deported.

When these camps grow, and their existence is noticeable, international and local humanitarian aid agencies often step in to provide basic amenities such as water, portable toilets, tents etc. At the same time isolated makeshift camps are often dependent on smugglers who are the main providers of necessities and play a role of authorities there.

Camps and slums are a business too
As humans tend to organize in settlements, with their growth and decline historical cycles, often driven by nature (or an “official society”) forces, there are always profiteers.

In the context of migrants and camps, there is an interesting phenomena of slum merchants and makeshift camps becoming slums. The journalists warn in 2016 about Idomeni refugee camp has developed into a settlement with a fixed infrastructure, and it was named the first European favela. The same could be observed with regards to the Jungle of Calais. Unfortunately, “favelisation” of some parts of European urban areas will be increased with a growing number of illegal newcomers, backlogs and ineffective readmission processes. We witness the situation when border security becomes the part of the urban security as well. It is definitely a food for thought for creation of a new security partnerships among border security, law enforcement and local authorities.

As we have human traffickers facilitating the “move”, the slum merchants/traders appear on the stage facilitating the “settlement”. Like with “normal” housing market, “places” in camps are being build, bought and sold, and there is a practice of “renting out” or “sub-renting” such places too. Therefore, we might say we have a new key figure, who, sometimes could be a trafficker and slum trader at the same time. Another gloomy prospect is a more influence of local criminal groups on the life of people in such places.

Demolition of makeshift camps
Like with historical human settlements were under pressure of nature and its forces, migrants and camps are under pressure of existing “official” societies.

The public wish is to delegate all dealings with migrant crisis to the state institutions with its clear control of health and security related risks regarding of mass arrivals of people. Basically, the aim would be to remove “inconveniences” arising from migration and blocking its effects. Just like nature forces build up slowly to “attack” human settlements (if you consider them as inconvenience and aberrations in the nature), migration crisis is usually met with slow decision-making process, lack of immediately available financial resources and justifiable discussion on the future of migrants.

The usual modus operandi of authorities is to close eyes in the early stage of a situation build up, then going through a prolonged period of back-and-forth balancing between one (official society) and the other (migrants and their camps and slums), and then arriving to desire of strong decisive measures like demolishing the makeshift camps by force as situation gradually matures with sanitary situation and security going out of control.

We see that the strategy of demolishing makeshift camps is used by authorities around the world (e.g., France, Serbia, Mexica…) in an attempt to run a “campaign” addressing usually growing insecurity and growing demand of local population. Would such strategy help to solve the problem of irregular migrants or it is just a temporary “cosmetic surgery”?

by Lina Kolesnikova, Security Expert