Mayor aims to stop 'vigilante' anti-immigrant activists from docking in Sicily

'To talk of the "defence of Europe" is demagogic and self-serving'

The Mayor of Catania aims to prevent the C-star group hired by the far-right activists from docking
The Mayor of Catania aims to prevent the C-star group hired by the far-right activists from docking

A ship chartered by activists hoping to hamper the rescue of refugees in the Mediterranean will not be welcome in the Sicilian port city of Catania, its mayor has said.

Enzo Bianco said he will fight to keep the C-star ship rented by a group calling themselves “The Identitarians” from entering the city’s port and “pouring fuel on the fire”.

“They are like vigilantes, people who take the law into their own hands without having any authority,” he said. ”The situation is too tense to be turned into the Wild West.”

He added: “The people on this boat are not welcome and I will certainly be asking the authorities to stop, for reasons of public safety, its docking at our port.

“Catania, in these years, has received thousands of desperate people fleeing war and hunger, people saved from death by European ships in the Mediterranean who often have lost one or more loved ones crossing the sea. To talk of the ‘defence of Europe’ is demagogic and self-serving.”

The city’s port has taken in 10,000 migrants this year, and Mr Bianco admitted it was starting to have “serious difficulties” coping with the influx – but does not want far-right groups taking matters into their own hands.

The activists have crowdfunded more than £67,000 to hire the boat, calling their scheme “Defend Europe”. They accuse non government organisation search and rescue boats of being in cahoots with people smugglers in working to transport illegal immigrants to Europe from Africa.

Sea migrant arrivals to the whole of Italy are approaching 100,000 this year – an increase of 17 per cent on last year. A poll last week found 78 per cent of Italians believe they have been abandoned by the rest of Europe to cope with the influx.

The activists plan to call the Libyan coastguard to ask them to take the migrants and refugees back to the war-torn country.

Ten humanitarian ships currently patrol the Mediterranean on behalf of NGOs and have saved many thousands of lives pulling drowning migrants from the sea in the past few years. But some say the reassurance of the rescue boats encourages people to risk their lives making the desperate crossing in search of a better life.

The Defend Europe movement, made up of millennials in their 20s and 30s, claims it wants to preserve Europe’s identity and prevent Islamification of the continent.

“There is a difference between saving lives and smuggling people to Europe,” said Martin Sellner, an Austrian leader of the group.

“What they are doing in fact is making millions of dollars for human trafficking rings.”

Critics say the mission is a publicity stunt while charities fear it will put lives at risk. In a “practice mission” two months ago, the group managed to intercept a rescue ship off the coast of Sicily.

A spokesman for SOS Mediterranee told Reuters: “As a humanitarian organisation, our biggest concern is the men, women and children who we rescue from unseaworthy boats.

“Any attempt of interference would endanger the lives of people in need of protection.”

At least 2,000 migrants are known to have drowned making the perilous crossing so far this year after paying smugglers to sail in rickety boats which are poorly designed for the choppy waters of the Mediterranean.

The Identitarians say they are determined to carry out their mission as planned, despite the possibility that they may not be allowed to dock in Sicily – a decision which will ultimately rest with the coastguard.

Reuters contributed to this report

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