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‘Defend Europe’ Group with Swiss support seeks to block migrants

The former research vessel Suunta, pictured here in 2012, was renamed the C-Star in February 2017 and sails under a Mongolian flag

(Keystone)

A right-wing group with some Swiss support has chartered a boat in the Mediterranean to sabotage the rescue of migrants fleeing war and conflict from Africa.

The group’s spokesman is a former lieutenant in the Swiss army, 32-year-old Jean-David Cattin of Geneva, and it has received some financial backing from the anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party, Swiss newspaper Blick reported on Sunday.

Their goal is to block European aid organisations and others from coming to the aid of migrants, stating on their websiteexternal link that they want to "document the doings of the NGOs, expose their collaboration with the human smugglers, and intervene if they do something illegal". The so-called ‘Defend Europe’ mission against the “undesirable mixing of cultures” originated in France and draws other supporters from Italy, Germany and Austria.

It chartered a 40-meter-long ship called C-Star on early July from Djibouti and then headed to Sicily to take on more crew before sailing for Libya. Cattin helped charter the ship and has been acting as the group’s spokesman, though he has not headed to sea, the newspaper reported.

Authorities have been keeping an eye on the group, which has been around for years, and includes some Swiss-trained cadres who express contempt for Muslims. The group has crowdfunded support online of almost CHF125,000 ($132,000), some from Switzerland and the People’s Party.

Concerned activists

A British NGO, Hope Not Hate, said the Egyptian navy stopped the ship south of the Suez Canal because the captain did not have a valid shipment, and the group feared the ship might take on armed mercenaries from Ukraine. The crew of the chartered ship called the group’s information “fake news”.

Rob MacGillivray, director of Save the Children’s Mediterranean rescue program, called the charter ship’s actions "extremely worrying” and said that the “right-wing radicals ignore the moral and legal obligation to save lives at sea."

An anti-racism committee of the French government has taken legal action. And on Friday, the mayor of Catania appealed to the Italian authorities to refuse the ship entrance to the city’s port. Leftist groups announced they wanted to stop the ship from leaving for Libya.

swissinfo.ch and agencies/jmh

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