Mayotte officially named the Department of Mayotte (French: Département de Mayotte). It consists of a main island, Grande-Terre (or Maore), a smaller island, Petite-Terre (or Pamanzi), and several islets around these two. Mayotte is part of the Comoros archipelago, located in the northern Mozambique Channel in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Southeast Africa, between northwestern Madagascar and northeastern Mozambique. Mayotte is more prosperous than other countries of the Mozambique Channel, making it a major destination for illegal immigration.
Mayotte’s land area is 374 square kilometres (144 sq mi) and, with its 288,926 people according to January 2021 official estimates, is very densely populated at 773 inhabitants per km2 (2,001 per sq mi). The biggest city and prefecture is Mamoudzou on Grande-Terre. The Dzaoudzi–Pamandzi International Airport is located on the neighbouring island of Petite-Terre. The territory is also known as Maore, the native name of its main island, especially by advocates of its inclusion in the Union of the Comoros.
Administratively, Mayotte is one of the overseas departments of France, and like the other four overseas departments, it is also one of the 18 regions of France, and a fully integrated part of the republic with the same status as Metropolitan France. Mayotte is an outermost region of the European Union and, as an overseas department of France, part of the eurozone.
Despite Mayotte’s status as a department of France, the majority of the inhabitants do not speak French as a first language, although a majority of the people 14 years and older report in the census that they can speak French (with varying levels of fluency). The language of the majority is Shimaore, a Sabaki language closely related to the varieties in the neighbouring Comoros Islands. The second most widely spoken native language is Kibushi, a Malagasy language, of which there are two varieties, Kibushi Kisakalava, most closely related to the Sakalava dialect of Malagasy, and Kibushi Kiantalaotra. Both have been influenced by Shimaore. The vast majority of the population is Muslim.
The island was populated from neighbouring East Africa with later arrival of Arabs, who brought Islam. A sultanate was established in 1500. In the 19th century, Mayotte was conquered by Andriantsoly, former king of Iboina on Madagascar, and later by the neighbouring islands Mohéli and then Anjouan before being purchased by France in 1841. The people of Mayotte voted to remain politically a part of France in the 1974 referendum on the independence of the Comoros. Mayotte became an overseas department on 31 March 2011 and became an outermost region of the European Union on 1 January 2014, following a 2009 referendum with an overwhelming result in favour of the department status.
The new department is facing enormous problems and challenges. According to an INSEE report published in 2018, 84% of the population live under the poverty line (established at €959 per month and per household), compared to 16% in metropolitan France, 40% of dwellings are corrugated sheet metal shacks, 29% of households have no running water, and 34% of the inhabitants between the age of 15 and 64 do not have a job. In 2019, with an annual population growth of 3.8%, half the population was less than 17 years old. In addition, as a result of massive illegal immigration from neighboring islands, 48% of the population are foreign nationals.