DOMONI: The faraway French island of Mayotte casts a hazardous attraction in Anjouan, part of the Comoros archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean.

Mayotte is an eldorado with schools, hospitals, roads, and a social safety net that thousands of destitute Comorans risk their lives to reach every year.

Domoni, Anjouan’s second largest town, is a popular departure point for migrants seeking a better life.

Many of its 17,000 residents survive on small-scale fishing, while some supplement their income with the lucrative business of human smuggling.

Men converse while playing bao, a traditional board game, in the shade of almond trees.

The air near the shore stinks of resin, which is used to manufacture and repair kwassa kwassa, or timber boats.

Almost half of Comoros’ 900,000 people live below the poverty line, with average monthly incomes barely exceeding $110. Many people do not have access to healthcare.

Those attempting to reach Mayotte, which is 70 kilometers away at its closest point, must navigate treacherous waters in rickety, crowded boats.

It is unknown how many people have died over the years, and those who do make it to Mayotte face an increasingly harsh welcome.

France has increased its efforts to combat illegal immigration, which is blamed in Mayotte for the spread of slums and deterioration of security.

A contentious operation known as “Wuambushu” (take back in a local language) is underway to deport undocumented migrants, the most of whom are Comorans.

The effort is being met with opposition by the Comoros authorities, who are refusing to accept deportees from Mayotte, claiming that the country cannot handle the inflow.

Sitting on a trash-strewn beach, a 27-year-old guy named Abdou Ahmadi acknowledged to being a “fisherman-smuggler” who made a fortune both from his nets and from transporting people to Mayotte.

“In a month, I transport up to eight people, but only sick people,” he stated.

He claimed to have charged 100 euros ($110) for a one-way travel.

“When I don’t have a patient, I like to go fishing.” But fishing alone isn’t enough to support a family,” he said.

Ahmadi despised the notion of leaving Domoni and living as a “illegal migrant.”

“I prefer to stay here,” he explained.

“The situation in Mayotte is dire; crime is rampant.” “I’m not even tempted.”

Former smuggler Soula said he quit the business after being sentenced to three years in prison and now works as a cab driver.

“I knew the water like it was my second skin. However, fishing was not particularly profitable. “As a result, I became a smuggler,” he explained. Some of the people he assisted in crossing were from Madagascar.

“I’ve never lost a person at sea.” “But I was arrested,” he explained as he sat on the red hull of a boat.

Rafouzoiti Dhoimir, 52, said she tried three times to enter Mayotte but was turned back each time.

Her three children live there, and she hasn’t seen them in over a decade.

“I pray to God that (Wuambushu) is stopped,” she remarked, recalling her children’s shacks.

She sat in an armchair in her small house opposite the shore, nervously wringing her fingers, dressed in a blue and orange outfit.

“I don’t sleep anymore because I’m scared,” she explained.

She was too terrified to attempt another crossing.

“There have been so many deaths,” she lamented. Her dream was that “one day they won’t expel anyone, and we will stop going there.”



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