The anti-immigration group “Generation Identity” and its German counterpart, the “Identitäre Bewegung,” have raised over 150,000 euros to buy a boat and stop refugees coming into the continent. Here is an overview of the group and its latest operation in the Mediterranean by Manasi Gopalakrishnan.
Wesearchr is a crowdfunding platform that has recently gained popularity among conservative, alt-right groups. Through Wesearchr, far-right group Generation Identity has managed to collect over 158,000 dollars – to fund its boat C-Star and its operations in the Mediterranean aimed at preventing NGO vessels from rescuing refugees crossing over to Europe from northern Africa. The C-Star is due to dock in Catania, in Sicily, in the next days.
The group’s project is called “Defend Europe.”
“It’s a mission to save Europe, to stop illegal immigration and end the dying at sea,” the group says in a statement calling supporters to contribute towards their cause. On its website, the group says that blocking the Mediterranean route “is the only way to Defend Europe and save lives.” It accuses “criminal” NGOs of collecting donations to rent ships and pick up migrants on the Libyan coast.
“They are nothing less than a part of the international human traffic ring and the migrant business,” the group says on its homepage.
What drives the movement?
Over one million refugees and migrants arrived by sea in Europe in 2015. The numbers reduced significantly in 2016, which recorded 362,753 arrivals. Over 112,000 refugees have arrived by the Mediterranean route until now this year, according to figures by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
Members of Generation Identity see the arrivals as nothing less than an attack by outsiders. “An invasion is taking place. This massive immigration is changing the face of our continent. We are losing our safety and our way of life and there is a danger we Europeans will become a minority in our own European homeland,” the group’s mission statement says.
According to Andreas Peham, who researches far-right movements at the Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance in Vienna, such groups feed on crises to garner attention: “They need crises-laden developments, even verging on a state of civil war. That’s the kind of scale of events they make up in order to help right-wing populists political parties gain power. In Austria, that’s the FPÖ party, in Germany it’s the AfD.”
The NGOs and human trafficking
According to the UNHCR, NGOs like Sea Watch, Jugend Rettet and SOS Mediterranee are responsible for rescuing up to 41 per cent of refugees stranded in the Mediterranean. However, officials in Rome argue that these safety nets encourage more people to leave shores in northern Africa in vessels that would never make it to Europe without help.
The Italian government and the European border monitoring agency Frontex’s allegations – saying that NGOs are colluding with human traffickers to bring refugees – have helped fuel the Identitarians’ current cause.
Earlier this month, the Italian government released a draft code of conduct for NGO ships, prohibiting them from making phone calls and launching flares that could signal to human traffickers that it was the right time to launch their boats. The ships would also not be allowed to enter Libyan waters.
For NGOs, the EU and Italy’s attitude towards their rescue missions and the added pressure from the Identitarians are unlikely to solve the problem of refugees dying in the sea. In a statement to InfoMigrants, SOS Mediterranee said, “the lack of adequate institutional rescue in the Central Med is constantly putting lives in danger. The polemics created around NGOs, undermining their urgently needed and life-saving work, has shifted the focus away from the real problem, which is the lack of a serious and sustainable response by European leaders to the ongoing tragedy in the Central Mediterranean.”
The Identitarians meanwhile face a crisis of credibility after their ship, the C-Star, was grounded in Cyprus earlier this week over accusations of using and publishing false documents. Five members of its Sri Lankan crew applied for asylum in Cyprus.