Far-right activists from the Identitarian movement have charted a ship to fight illegal migration off the Libyan coast and to expose what they describe as alleged collaboration between European NGOs operating in the area and human traffickers.
A 40-meter-long ship called the C-Star, which was charted by the group, set sail from the African port of Djibouti on July 6 and is expected to take the far-right activists via the Sicilian port of Catania next week before reaching the relief zone of the Libyan coast.
The operation, called "Defend Europe," is run by the pan-European Identitarian Movement – a vast network of nationalist, far-right, nativist and populist movements across several European countries, including France, Germany, Austria and Italy.
In this particular case, the French, German and Italian branches of the movement participated in the initiative that was launched as the activists managed to raise more than $ 91,000 in an online fundraiser campaign they launched in mid-May.
The fundraising campaign was successful, even despite the fact that the online payment system Paypal froze the activists’ accounts after a massive opposition campaign, as reported by the France's Liberation newspaper.
The funds were eventually used to lease the C-Star and its crew. On the campaign's website, the far-right activists wrote that the goal of the mission was to “save Europe, to stop illegal immigration, and end the dying in the sea.”
They went on to say that, once they reach the relief zone off the Libyan coast, they will “document the doings of the NGOs, expose their collaboration with the human smugglers, and intervene if they do something illegal.”
The activists also pledged support to the Libyan Coast Guard by saying that their vessel could serve as a “recon ship.”
The Identitarians also branded their initiative as a “search and rescue mission” and said that if they get a SOS signal they will “of course save the people in distress - and hand them over to the Libyan Coast Guard to make sure that they are brought to the closest harbour, according to international law.”
They further said that their "’No Way’ policy for illegal immigration will discourage human traffickers and NGOs to lure people into the sea.”
The far-right activists also said that the activities of the NGOs operating off the Libyan coast and saving migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe only stimulate human traffickers to send refugees and migrants to the sea in small overloaded and poorly equipped boats, thus exposing them to a greater risk.
The initiative has already provoked concerns among some NGOs engaged in sea rescue operations, and they have said that the arrival of the vessel charted by the Identitarians could disrupt their operations.
The French authorities also criticized the move as a “provocation” and a “hindrance” to relief efforts, French media report, adding that the issue was already referred to a court.
The Identitarian movement is known for its staunch anti-immigrant position and protests against what it describes as “Islamization of Europe.”
In one such action, the members of the Austrian branch of the movement covered a statue of the 18th-century Empress Maria Theresa in Vienna with a huge burqa in December 2016.
A sign reading "Islamization? No thanks!" was placed next to the statue.
In May, some 50 activists from the German branch of the Identitarian Movement attempted to “raid” the Justice Ministry building in Berlin using a 10-meter-long ladder in a protest against a proposed law designed to fight hate speech on social media.