The anti-immigration activist group Defend Europe is set to launch its monitoring campaign off the coast of Libya, despite mounting opposition from NGOs, government officials and activists.
Human rights group Hope Not Hate contends that Defend Europe has ties to the far right, and that it is primarily motivated by anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant views. Robert Timm, a German architecture student and one of Defend Europe’s organizers, countered in a recent interview that no one in the group is "actively a neo-Nazi,” though he acknowledged that some of them may have been involved in far-right groups in their youth.
In their own words, the group's organizers seek to implement "an Australian 'No Way' Policy to save Europe and to save lives," referring to an Australian government PR campaign from 2014. Australia diverts refugees arriving by boat to processing camps on Pacific islands for detention and deportation.
Martin Sellner, the leader of right-wing youth group Generation Identity and a key organizer of Defend Europe, said Thursday that the government of Spain is investigating the group for piracy. Though he did not give further details, other organizers have suggested that there may be an embarked security detail on the group's vessel, a former floating armory that is owned by a private maritime security contractor.
Sellner asked whether government officials sought to prevent Defend Europe's mission because they had something to hide. "I want to go there and expose what the human traffickers are doing," he said. "When we are there and taking pictures of what they are actually doing . . . you'll see that it's not about saving people, it's about trafficking into Europe."
Human rights groups adamantly oppose Defend Europe's campaign, and several have worked to cut off its fundraising sources. In response to pressure from Hope Not Hate, online crowdfunding portal Patreon recently suspended the account of one of Defend Europe's supporters, citing her involvement in "activities that are likely to cause loss of life." Paypal has also suspended accounts linked to the group. Despite these setbacks, Defend Europe has raised at least $170,000 online to support its operations.
The C Star, the Mongolian-flagged vessel that Defend Europe has chartered for its mission, was northbound in the Suez Canal as of Friday, despite rumors that she had been detained off Suez. She is bound for Catania, Sicily, where Generation Identity activists are gathered to meet her.
Catania's mayor, Enzo Bianco, told Reuters that he hopes to prevent C Star from entering the port. "They are like vigilantes, people who take the law into their own hands without having any authority," he said.
Rescue NGO Save the Children echoed Bianco's concerns. “Activities of far-right groups planning to disrupt search and rescue operations aimed at saving lives are deeply concerning," the group said in a statement. "These activists wish to disrupt efforts to bring these people to safety."