The Avaaz international civic movement recently organized a spirited demonstration at the seaport in Catania, Sicily. Numerous locals and immigrants from Africa participated. They briefly blockaded the port to express their opposition to a right-wing organization called Defend Europe. Members of the anti-refugee group had planned to dock at Catania port in a ship known as the C-Star.
Demonstrators took to the sea in a variety of small watercraft. The vessels included canoes, dinghies and kayaks. Some boats held banners that urged the Italian Government to close the port to racists and open it to refugees and to stop the attack on refugees. About 150 people joined the energetic protest. Shortly after the demonstration C-Star announced that Catania port was not safe any more (they feared of being detained by Italian authorities) and decided to skip the port.
Avaaz organizers didn’t only want to send a message to anti-immigrant groups. While speaking to the media during the protest, a senior campaigner explained that demonstrators sought to dissuade government officials from allowing the C-Star to visit Sicily. Avaaz also hopes that Italy will bring an end to the ship’s dangerous activities.
Defend Europe wants the authorities to stop allowing refugees and other immigrants to reach the continent. It accuses nonprofits like SOS Mediterranean and Save the Children of aiding human traffickers. The France-based group strongly opposes their efforts to rescue refugees from northern Africa.
The C-Star faced considerable opposition as it traveled from Djibouti to the Mediterranean Sea. Protests have occurred in several countries, including Cyprus, Greece, Egypt and Tunisia. Demonstrators successfully stopped it from docking at a Greek port. Authorities in Egypt and Cyprus temporarily detained the ship.
Defend Europe’s stated mission is to monitor the activities of humanitarian workers in the Mediterranean Sea and assist any ship in need of help. Pro-refugee groups believe that the C-Star actually has malicious goals. During May, a different right-wing ship attempted to stop a rescue vessel from reaching Europe.
Avaaz’s campaign went beyond organizing demonstrations. The movement’s staff also asked attorneys to determine if officials in Sicily could block the C-Star’s arrival without violating Italian law. The lawyers discovered that this was possible. Consequently, Avaaz contacted the government and urged it to protect refugees by denying access to Defend Europe’s vessel.
The movement’s campaign proved successful. C-Star crew members could see that they weren’t welcome in Sicily, so they didn’t travel to Catania. Recent demonstrations also highlighted the fact that many Europeans strongly support efforts to aid refugees who attempt perilous journeys across the sea.
Avaaz organizer Oscar Soria told a journalist that the anti-immigrant movement in Europe remains comparatively small. He noted that right-wing extremists had become more prominent but continued to lose elections in numerous countries. Soria described the C-Star’s crew as “erratic” and “incompetent.”
Avaaz has also encouraged members to support an online petition that urges authorities to treat refugees with compassion. As of August, more than 1.24 million people had signed it.
Demonstrations against the C-Star have brought attention to the plight of immigrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. The U.N. reports that over 2,000 people have died in these voyages. During May, 129 boat passengers were killed when they attempted to escape Libya by traveling to Italy. Avaaz members hope to prevent anti-immigrant forces from creating additional obstacles to the survival of African refugees.