MAMOUDZOU: French authorities on Sunday announced a controversial plan to amend the Constitution to revoke birthright citizenship on the French Indian Ocean island of Mayotte, which has been struggling with social unrest and a crippling migration crisis.
The proposal risks to further ramp up tensions in France following the adoption of a tough new law on immigration, with the left denouncing the fresh plan as another attack on France's centuries-old values.
The reform was announced by Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who arrived on the island, the country's poorest department, on Sunday following three weeks of protests there.
In Mayotte's capital Mamoudzou, several hundred protesters greeted Darmanin and his entourage with boos and shouts of "Mayotte is angry".
Mayotte is composed of two islands that voted to stay part of France in 1973, while the others in the surrounding Muslim-majority archipelago sought independence, becoming the Comoros Islands.
Thousands of Comorans fleeing the poverty and corruption of their homeland make the trip across to Mayotte in search of higher living standards every year.
The influx has caused major tensions, with many locals on Mayotte complaining about crime and poverty. For the past three weeks activists have been staging strikes and erecting roadblocks to protest against the lack of security and the migration crisis. A months-long water crisis has also exacerbated tensions.
"We are going to take a radical decision," Darmanin said on the island.
"It will no longer be possible to become French if you are not the child of a French parent," he said.
He said the measure would reduce "the attractiveness" of the archipelago for prospective migrants.
"It is an extremely strong, clear, radical measure, which obviously will be limited to the Mayotte archipelago," said Darmanin.
Mayotte, which lies northwest of Madagascar, became a full-fledged French department in 2011.
According to France's National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), the 375-square kilometre island is home to around 310,000 people, but officials say this figure is seriously underestimated.
Nearly half of island residents do not have French nationality.
According to INSEE, more than 40 percent of the islanders survive on less than 160 euros per month.
Residence permits issued in Mayotte are only valid on the island and cannot be used to travel to mainland France.
The scrapping of the system is one of the protesters' main demands.
Darmanin said authorities would abolish the measure as part of the reform.
Some protesters welcomed the proposal.
"The announcements are very encouraging, but we're waiting to see what happens," one demonstrator, Eirini Arvanitopoulou, told AFP.
"It's all going to take time and for the moment it won't change our daily lives."
But some experts questioned the need for such a reform.
Access to birthright citizenship on the island was already tightened in 2018, pointed out Serge Slama, a public law professor at the University of Grenoble.
"Has this had the slightest effect on migratory flows towards Mayotte?" he said on X (former Twitter).
A hot-button issue in France, immigration regularly inflames the political class.
In December, French parliament passed a tough immigration bill adopted under pressure from the right.
In January, France's top constitutional authority censured contentious additions made under insistence from the right.
The left slammed the latest proposal.
The head of the Socialist deputies in the National Assembly, Boris Vallaud, said his party would oppose the revision of the constitution.
"Birthright citizenship is not negotiable," he told broadcaster France 3.
Centrist MP Aurelien Tache, speaking on BFMTV, said the proposal was "extremely serious."
"If this provision is enacted and if Marine Le Pen then comes to power, it will be the end of birthright citizenship in France."