France to send more police to Mayotte amid crime wave, rising Covid-19 cases

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France is to send more police to its overseas territory of Mayotte, in the Indian Ocean, where there has been a spate of violent crimes and a worsening of the Covid-19 pandemic, the French interior ministry said on Thursday.

The French government will deploy 20 police in Mayotte by March and an additional 13 gendarmes will be sent in the coming weeks through summer 2021, the interior and overseas ministers Gérald Darmanin and Sébastien Lecornu said in a joint statement Thursday.

The police reinforcements follow the deployment of two mobile gendarmerie platoons that were sent to the overseas territory at the end of January after a wave of violent attacks. Three stabbings, involving two teenagers, and the destruction of homes raised security concerns and prompted France's decision to maintain the platoons “for as long as their presence is necessary”, the ministers said.

Police will also be tasked with enforcing a lockdown, in place since February 5, to help contain a worsening Covid-19 outbreak in Mayotte following the appearance of the South African and British variants.

The incidence rate of Covid-19 in Mayotte on Wednesday stood at 812 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the Regional Health Agency.

Alongside raging infection rates, Mayotte has also seen a higher incidence of illegal immigration. Thousands of people, mainly from neighbouring Comoros, but also nationals from the Great Lakes region of Africa, have fled their homeland in recent years to seek refuge in Mayotte.

The ministers announced that three surveillance boats would help border police intercept illegal arrivals which they say “have put an additional burden on Mayotte's social services”.

The boats are in addition to a land and air surveillance effort, Operation "Shikandra", launched by the French government in August 2019 to curb illegal immigration to Mayotte.

The operation identified and deported more than 27,400 illegal migrants in 2019 and 2,450 in January, according to Darmanin.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)