A far-right chartered ship is on the way to the Mediterranean hoping to stop the flow of migrants into Europe.
The operation, Defend Europe, aims to disrupt human traffickers off the coast of Libya and monitor NGOs who are rescuing migrants from the sea.
It’s being launched by the anti-immigration and anti-Islam group Generation Identity, which has a presence in France, Italy and Germany.
The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says 83,650 people have reached Italy by sea in 2017, with 10,183 arriving in the country over just three days in late June. Around 2,200 migrants and refugees have died on the Africa-Italy sea route this year.
Around a third of sea arrivals into Europe this year have come from Nigeria, Guinea and the Ivory Coast.
People leave these west African countries mainly for economic reasons, according to a UNHCR study of migrants in Libya.
Defend Europe launched the ship after raising $80,000 (69,000 euros) via a crowdfunding platform.
The group claims mass immigration is changing the face of Europe and is changing the face of the continent.
“The human traffickers in Libya now expect the migrants to be picked up by NGOs after 12 nautical miles (about 45 minutes of travel) and therefore overpack the small boats and send them to the sea without provisions and a sufficient amount of fuel.
“By picking up the migrants closer and closer to the Libyan coast, the NGOs are working in concert with those criminals.”
But NGOs told Euronews they have a moral and legal obligation to save migrants and refugees’ lives.
The Migrant Offshore Aid Station said it had rescued more than 30,000 people in the central Mediterranean since it began operating in 2014.
The Malta-based operation was not able to comment on Defend Europe directly, but issued this statement earlier this year: “It is abundantly clear to all involved that maritime search-and-rescue is not a solution to the complexities and challenges presented by the mass migratory phenomenon.
“It is for this reason that MOAS has consistently advocated for safe and legal alternatives to be found.
“However, as a humanitarian organisation, as long as lives are at risk we feel an obligation and responsibility to be present to prevent that loss of life to the extent of our abilities.”
Rob MacGillivray, director of Save the Children’s search and rescue programme told Euronews: “Activities of far-right groups planning to disrupt search-and-rescue operations aimed at saving lives are deeply concerning.
“They ignore the moral and legal obligation to save lives at sea.
“Without NGOs and other search-and-rescue actors, many more lives, like the men, women and children we have rescued, would be lost. These activists wish to disrupt efforts to bring these people to safety.
“2016 was the deadliest year on record in the Mediterranean, with more than 5,000 deaths at sea and 2017 could be worse still. As things stand, the Mediterranean Sea is one of the largest unmarked mass graves in recent times. As a humanitarian organisation, our mission is to save lives and we go where children face the greatest risks.”