French Overseas Territories Minister Annick Girardin made her first visit to the Indian Ocean territory of Mayotte on 31 August. The four-day visit to France’s newest and poorest département was a chance for Ms Girardin to recall the commitment of Paris to work with Mayotte in addressing the challenges that it faces, particularly illegal immigration and failing health and education systems. Ms Girardin met with locals and island leaders to further understand the issues, before committing to put together a plan on how to address those challenges, to be released in 2018.
Illegal immigration is a big issue on Mayotte. As much as 40 per cent of the population is believed to be foreign. Illegal immigration has strained the educational and health services on Mayotte, as well as having led to higher unemployment. The majority of illegal arrivals come from the neighbouring country of Comoros for the higher quality medical and educational facilities and higher standard of living that are available on Mayotte. At $12,846 (2014), per capita gross domestic product on Mayotte is nearly twelve times higher than that of Comoros ($1,065) and that huge disparity between the two entities is what has, to a large degree, fuelled illegal immigration.
The educational and health services on Mayotte must be further developed to keep up with the growing demand; doing so, however, will increase the attractiveness of the island to illegal immigrants. Mayotte’s reaction to illegal immigration is focussed on intercepting the immigrants at sea. Ms Girardin gave her support for additional maritime resources to strengthen security, although no specifications were given. Regional co-operation with Comoros to improve its health care sector and raise living standards were also seen as important factors in reducing illegal immigration, although it has proven a challenge and current efforts to combat illegal immigration have proven to be ineffective.
Due to an increasing population and a lack of investment in medical training and infrastructure, health facilities on Mayotte are lacking. Infant and maternal care services are particularly poor. Despite a high birth rate, obstetric services are in short supply and infant and maternal mortality rates on Mayotte are four times higher than those in metropolitan France. Health facilities are severely understaffed and overworked medical staff have taken strike action. Ms Girardin used her time on Mayotte to announce that Paris will spend 120 million euros ($180 million) on child welfare and development on Mayotte. The money will be used to renovate infrastructure and equipment, to recruit and train nurses and medical aides and to provide support in sectors which are dedicated to child welfare. Further support for the healthcare system on Mayotte is also needed to ensure that healthcare facilities are accessible across the whole territory.
Education is an equally important issue on Mayotte. The dynamic of a young population and high birth rates has resulted in an increased number of students in recent years. Despite the growing demand for education, little new infrastructure has been provided and schools often lack enough classrooms. Schools are therefore required to run two half-days, rather than a full day in order to accommodate students. Existing school buildings often do not comply with safety standards and require renovations. As with health facilities, schools remain severely understaffed due to a lack of training and attractiveness to teachers. Many teachers choose to settle on the other, more developed Indian Ocean département of La Réunion instead of Mayotte, due to the higher indexation rates that are paid there. Indexation rates boost salaries by giving workers greater purchasing power in relation to their wages. Striking teachers met with Ms Girardin to express these concerns, although Mayotte’s indexation rate was increased to 40 per cent at the start of 2017 as the central government works to further improve rates. Girardin also met with students and education representatives to discuss the issues affecting the sector. It is hoped that this will provide much-needed local input that will improve public policy and educational outcomes.
Although Ms Girardin’s visit provided little in the way of detailed initiatives, the trip gave Mayotte locals an opportunity to express their concerns. A quick answer will not be forthcoming, however, as Ms Girardin intends taking her time to address the département’s challenges and aims to have put together detailed plans for that by mid-2018. If a careful and considered policy response results from the time taken, that should be a good outcome for Mayotte.
 ‘Mayotte: Annick Girardin annonce 120 millions d’euros pour la protection maternelle et infantile’ [‘Mayotte: Annick Giradin Announces 120 Million Euros for Maternal and Child Health Care’], Europe1, 1 September 2017. <http://www.europe1.fr/politique/mayotte-annick-girardin-annonce-120-millions-deuros-pour-la-protection-maternelle-et-infantile-3424484>