The migrant rescue organization SOS Mediterranee said on Friday that its headquarters in the French city of Marseille had been "attacked" by far right activists. Meanwhile, thousands of people attended rallies across Europe on Saturday to show solidarity for the NGO and its rescue mission.
About 20 people have been arrested after acts of vandalism at the headquarters of the French non-governmental organization SOS Mediterranee on Friday, police in Marseille said. The organization runs migrant rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea.
"The staff of SOS MedFrance are safe and sound, but shocked," the staff tweeted.
Private rescue organizations have been repeatedly accused by members of the far right of being accomplices to people smugglers. EU governments have also clamped down on rescue activities, the German press agency dpa writes.
The Aquarius, run by SOS Mediterranee, had recently rescued 58 migrants off the coast of Libya and now faces an uncertain future as its registration has been revoked. Without a flag and an official entry in the shipping register, the Aquarius is not allowed to set sail again. The NGO's rescue mission is therefore under threat. Its vessel is stranded in the harbor of Marseille.
Show of solidarity
One day after the attack orchestrated solidarity rallies took place in different cities in Europe to show support for the Aquarius. Dozens of demonstrations were held in France including in Paris, as well as Brussels, Berlin, Madrid and Palermo, AFP reports.
Many demonstrators chanted for "a flag for Aquarius" while harshly slamming the "criminal inaction" of EU governments to resolve the situation.
Marseille saw the largest outcome of protestors. According to organizers, 10,000 people showed their support, though police had announced a lower figure of 3,500.
"The goal is to make an appeal to citizens and show that SOS Mediterranee draws its legitimacy from civil society," said Sophie Rahal, spokeswoman of the NGO in Paris.