Far-right activists raising money to stop refugee boats crossing into Europe

Search and rescue operations have already saved 6,000 refugees from drowning this year (Rex)

Far-right activists are planning to disrupt rescue boats carrying refugees making the deadly journey across the Mediterranean this summer.

More than 1,600 refugees have already died crossing the sea in 2017, while 5,079 people died attempting the journey last year, according to the United Nations.

Search and rescue boats are believed to have rescued around 6,000 refugees from drowning already this year, with more expected to attempt the journey as summer arrives.

Despite this, the anti-immigration group Identitarian has raised £56,489 through crowdfunding to target vessels run by aid charities.

The movement, considered Europe’s answer to the American alt-right, successfully intercepted a rescue mission last month, according to the Observer.

The far-right group is hoping to disrupt the rescue boats, many full of children (Rex)

The word Identitarian refers to the French youth movement Génération Identitaire, which emerged in 2002 as part of the Nouvelle Droite (or New Right), but now operates across Europe.

The Economist has described the German arm of the group, Identitäre Bewegung, as being “racists in skinny jeans … repackaging [far-right] ideas to a younger audience.”

The movement, which describes itself as being anti-Islam and anti-immigrant, is made up, mostly, of young men.

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The group launched a crowdfunding campaign with an initial goal of €50,000 (about £44,000) to pay for ships, travel costs and film equipment, but eclipsed that total within three weeks.

Simon Murdoch, from anti-racist organisation Hope not Hate, told the Observer: “While these actions are appalling, unfortunately they don’t shock us.

“The fact that these far-right activists are seeking to prevent a humanitarian mission, helping some of the most vulnerable people in the world today – including women and children at risk of drowning – speaks volumes about them and where their compassion lies.”

The plans were laid out on the Génération Identitaire Facebook page, which has more than 122,000 Likes.

“We are preparing a great rescue mission in the Mediterranean, a mission to save Europe from illegal immigration,” a post reads.

“We want to assemble a team of professionals, charter a great boat and sail on the Mediterranean sea to counter the boats of NGOs that act in unison with human traffickers.”

GoFundMe page in opposition to the group has already been set up and has raised £62,000 at the time of writing.  The proceeds will go to MSF search and rescue teams.

Writer Caroline Criado-Perez, who set up the page, said: “Last night, Britain suffered from its second terror attack in as many weeks. We all want this to stop… Far-right agitators would have you believe that it is these desperate people, these traumatised families, who are a danger to us.

“They think the right response to terrorism is to make sure more of them drown. But the reality is, the people they are fleeing from”

In 2014, it was announced that Britain will no longer support future search and rescue operations to prevent migrants and refugees drowning in the Mediterranean.

The government claimed that displaced people should not be encouraged to attempt the dangerous crossing, but the decision was heavily criticised by campaign groups.

The British Refugee Council chief executive, Maurice Wren, said: “The British government seems oblivious to the fact that the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the second world war.

“People fleeing atrocities will not stop coming if we stop throwing them life-rings; boarding a rickety boat in Libya will remain a seemingly rational decision if you’re running for your life and your country is in flames. The only outcome of withdrawing help will be to witness more people needlessly and shamefully dying on Europe’s doorstep.

“The answer isn’t to build the walls of fortress Europe higher, it’s to provide more safe and legal channels for people to access protection.”

In 2016, the UN said that more than 6 million are internally displaced within Syria, with more than 4.8 million refugees outside of Syria.