The French island territories of La Réunion and Mayotte are the geographical focus of French influence in the Indian Ocean region. La Réunion, part of the Mascarene Islands chain, has been fully integrated into the French Republic since 1956. In contrast, Mayotte, part of the Comoros archipelago, became the 101st French département in 2011, following a 2009 referendum. The Mahorais (as the residents of Mayotte are known), voted overwhelmingly in favour of becoming a département due to the economic and security benefits associated with deeper integration with France. Both départements present Paris with some significant economic and security challenges however. Popular protest againstla vie chère – “the costly life” – has become rife on both Mayotte and La Réunion. Consequently, the French authorities are attempting to implement measures to reduce the social and economic inequalities between the overseas territories and the mainland.
The continuous arrival of illegal migrants from the nearby independent Comorian islands poses significant social and economic challenges for Mayotte. Many Mahorais blame increased crime levels on migrants and resent the pressure that migration is placing on local hospitals and schools. The French authorities are also working to improving the quality of life on Mayotte and increase development, while implementing measures to reduce the lure of a better life for the impoverished people of Comoros. Improving living standards on the Comorian islands is ultimately essential to stemming the flow of migrants to Mayotte.