A pro-migrant organization’s boat was called upon to rescue a vessel used by the anti-immigrant Defend Europe group Friday.
According to Sea-Eye, a nongovernmental organization whose boats rescue struggling migrants, Italian officials instructed the crew of one of its boats to attend to Defend Europe’s C-Star craft, which has been patrolling the Mediterranean, after it suffered a mechanical failure.
Michael Buschheuer, the chairman of Sea-Eye, said: “To help a ship in distress in the duty of anyone at sea, without regard for their origin, race, religion or beliefs.”
Defend Europe, which had vowed to stop the “invasion” of refugees attempting to sail to Europe, refused the group’s aid, according to a press release from Sea-Eye, which continued its exploratory course for shipwrecked and drowning people.
Earlier in the day, the Defend Europe group confirmed in a statement on Twitter that its vessel had “developed a minor technical problem.”
The group has struggled throughout its mission, with the C-Star being held up in Egypt and Cyprus, while its crew was also caught up in allegations of people smuggling but released for lack of evidence. Tunisia refused to allow the C-Star entry to the country’s ports.
Defend Europe, which relies on crowd funding, believes that “massive immigration” is responsible for “changing the face” of Europe.
On its website it says that “there is a danger we Europeans will become a minority in our own European homelands.” It has also accused NGOs of carrying out illegal smuggling.
Most recently, the boat had been heading towards the Libyan coastline.
NGO rescue ships have been under increasing pressure, with Italian authorities stepping up efforts to restrict the number of migrants attempting to cross the deadly sea route between Libya and Italy over the past few weeks.
In late July, the Italian government passed a controversial code of conduct for NGOs operating search-and-rescue missions in the Mediterranean, asking that the rescue boats take armed police onboard in what they say is an effort to crack down on human smugglers.
Libya is a well-known jumping-off point for many migrants seeking refuge on European shores. Many, from sub-Saharan Africa, are fleeing war and persecution; others from impoverished nations in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia have opted to risk their lives on the treacherous journey in the search for better economic opportunities.
Libya has become the base for a well-oiled human-trafficking operation that’s relied on the country’s lack of effective central governance to operate with relative ease.
Since the start of this year, 2,385 migrants have died on the central Mediterranean route, according to the International Organization for Migration; 114,287 migrants have reached European shores, 85% of them in Italy.
CNN’s Laura Goehler and Kara Fox contributed to this report.