The Indignés (Indignant) movement, which has last year’s protests over the cost of living, called for a demonstration over “such a serious event” on Saturday morning and French rights ombudsman Dominique Baudis announced that he would look into it.
Local prosecutors say that the child died of natural causes, asphyxiated just hours after arriving at the centre with its mother, but the tragedy has turned the spotlight on conditions in the centre.
The mother and child were picked up by the navy on Wednesday night along with 24 other people trying to enter French territory by sea.
Dozens of people pay 200-300 euros to people smugglers every month to come to Mayotte from other islands in the Comoros archipelago, many of them drowning before they finish the journey.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls and Overseas Territories Minister Victorin Lurel expressed “deep sorrow” over the death in a statement.
But lawyer Jacques Tchibozo, who is vice-president the Mayotte human rights league, is furious that Valls’s 7 July recommendation that undocumented immigrants with families be kept under house arrest rather than placed in retention centres does not apply to Mayotte.
“It’s supposed to be a good circular (…) but this minister of a Socialist government decided that it should not be applied in Mayotte,” he told RFI.
Conditions in the retention centre are appalling, according to Tchiboso.
“If you go there you see people sleeping on the floor, they can’t wash themselves,” he says. “There are too many people in a small room. Mayotte is a country where the temperature is very high.
“Even when you go as a lawyer it’s difficult. Now how can you imagine a two-month baby in this situation?”
Valls and Lurel claim that the island faces “difficulties without any equivalent on French territory” with the equivalent of 25 per cent of its population trying to enter the illegally.
“If no way of handling this phenomenon is found the population would grow by 10 per cent each year, which would compromise all social and economic development,” they argue.
A new centre is to be built by the end of 2014.