Leader of anti-migrant Defend Europe campaign to speak at Ukip youth rally

The leader of a campaign to stop rescues of migrants crossing the Mediterranean has been invited to speak at the annual conference of Ukip’s youth wing.

Martin Sellner, the Austrian co-leader of the pan-European Génération Identitaire – a far-right group that opposes migration as a threat to European identity – is set to speak at the Young Independence’s #Horizons conference in Sheffield on Saturday.

He hit the headlines this summer as leader of the Defend Europe mission, which chartered a boat to monitor the activities of charities working in the Mediterranean, where thousands of people risk their lives to make the crossing to Europe.

Also due to speak at the conference is Anne Marie Waters, the Irish-born candidate for Ukip’s leadership who calls in her manifesto for a ban on burqas. Waters is one of eight Ukip leadership contenders set to appear.

Sellner’s appearance as “special guest speaker” at the Young Independence conference was announced in a Facebook post and tweet – both since deleted – by the group, which did not reply to requests to confirm his attendance.

The 28-year-old was the leader of the Defend Europe mission, which took place this month after the group raised £56,489 from supporters to target aid boats helping to rescue migrants stranded at sea.

The group, which accuses charities of working with people smugglers bringing migrants to Europe from north Africa, said its plan was to “overwatch the doings of the NGOs, disrupt the human trafficking rings by sinking the abandoned boats they leave behind, and intervene when something illegal happens”.

It has since claimed that the voyage “was a success. Undisputabley [sic]. Totally.” However, it was mired in farce when one of the very NGOs whose work it had set out to oppose sailed to its aid after the group sent a distress signal.

Defend Europe was forced to announce an end to its mission when an alliance of NGOs had its vessel, the C Star, banned from Maltese ports, preventing it from refuelling.

According to antifascists who have pledged to protest against his appearance, Sellner is set to speak for 30 minutes on Saturday afternoon at the conference at the Hilton Sheffield hotel on Victoria Quays.

The “Identitarian” movement, with which Sellner is associated, has been described as Europe’s answer to America’s alt-right. According to the antifascist research group Hope Not Hate, it was founded in France in 2012 and its most prominent branches now are in Germany, Italy and Austria.

A spokesperson for Hope Not Hate said: “Young Independence has a history of courting controversy, with Ukip’s senior official Suzanne Evans previously calling it a far-right lynch mob. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that it would invite Martin Sellner and Ann Marie Waters to speak, who remain fixated with conspiracies around Islam and Muslims.

“Hope Not Hate is proud to have exposed their hatred multiple times, helping to lead to the cancellation of Sellner’s Defend Europe mission in the Mediterranean. This marks a further downturn for Ukip, which has been left rudderless since Nigel Farage departed and forced into a corner of its own making, chasing ever more bizarre Islamophobic obsessions at the expense of remaining a credible or relevant political force.”

The author: Michel THEYS

Michel Theys, a Belgian native, began his career as a civil servant, serving the public for several decades. After retirement, he shifted gears to follow his passion for journalism. With a background in public administration, Theys brought a unique perspective to his reporting. His insightful articles, covering a wide array of topics, swiftly gained recognition. Today, Michel Theys is a respected journalist known for his balanced and thoughtful reporting in the Belgian media landscape.

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