The capsizes of the kwassa kwassa, these small motorized fishing boats used by the smugglers, are regular and deadly and the surveillance put in place around the small French island in the Indian Ocean has been further reinforced to prevent them from approaching.

But nothing seems to deter the many African candidates, especially Comorians, for immigration, always ready to take all the risks to reach this end of France by sea.

Three months after his arrival in the French department where he came to seek asylum, “Dallas”, now an undocumented migrant, is still struggling to talk about his journey. “After what happened on the boat, I will never be the same again.”

If many illegal immigrants set off from the Comorian island of Anjouan, 70 km from Mayotte, he left Tanzania aboard a first boat before being transferred directly to the sea aboard a kwassa kwassa, towards the French island.

“We spent a week at sea under the sun, there was quickly no more water or food. A woman died, the smugglers threw her body overboard. And then the kwassa arrived for us bring to Mayotte”, he describes under a first name borrowed from an AFP correspondent.

– “More risks” –

Since 2019, the French State has considerably increased its means of combating illegal immigration to Mayotte through a program called “Operation Shikandra”.

The 24-hour presence of at least three interceptor boats at sea and aerial surveillance made it possible in 2021 to arrest 6,355 migrants and 324 smugglers and to destroy 459 kwassa kwassa, according to the report of the prefecture.

And the pace is not slowing down, according to official statistics published in April: no less than 2,269 migrants arrested and 163 boats destroyed over the first four months of the year.

But this increased pressure has a downside. “It does not discourage migrants, determined at all costs to leave their country, but it makes the journeys more dangerous because the smugglers take more risks,” said Pauline Le Liard, project manager for Cimade Mayotte.

“It has become much too risky,” confides to AFP a repentant smuggler from Anjouan who prefers to keep his name silent.

“As we know that many are destroyed by the French police, the manufacturers of kwassa make very low-end, disposable, we also put cheaper, less powerful engines and more people on the boats,” he explains. he.

“Me, I no longer want to see everything that happens at sea”, continues the former smuggler who says he can no longer “count all those who died in the capsizing”.

– “A demain inch’Allah” –

The man himself thought he was going to die when one night, in the middle of a storm, he had to cut his engines while waiting for the French border police to move away from his route. Finally, his boat was able to reach the Mayotte coast.

Zaïd failed to reach them. He was 17 when, on August 28, 2021, the kwassa kwassa he occupied with around twenty migrants capsized in the south of Mayotte, which he hoped to join to find his family there.

“He called me to tell me: Mama, we’re on board, I answered him tomorrow inch’Allah. And I never saw him again,” recalls his older sister Chaharizade Ali, 41, who raised like a mother.

The ocean did not return it. She would have preferred “that we find his body, know that he is really dead and that we bury him so that we can all find peace”.

In the absence of reliable statistics, the human cost of clandestine crossings between Anjouan and Mayotte remains difficult to assess.

In the early 2000s, a Senate briefing report estimated that a thousand people a year lost their lives there. Since 2020, the maritime rescue organization (Secmar) has officially recorded 14 capsizes and 140 dead or missing in the waters of Mayotte alone.