Following a massive uproar from the general public, the online payment service Paypal has blocked donations to a French far-right group, which was fundraising to charter a boat and thwart migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean
“Our policy is to prevent our services being used by companies whose activities promote hatred, violence or racial intolerance,” PayPal explained in a statement to the French-language Rue89 website.
The far-right nativist group Generation Identitaire (Generation Identity), France’s answer to the “alt-right,” sees as its mission to reclaim territory believed to have been lost to foreign migrants.
Backed by similar groups across Europe, in early May these nativists launched an appeal to raise funds for its “Defend Europe” operation.
The stated goal of the campaign was to “charter a boat and sail in to the Mediterranean” to “thwart NGO ships” that regularly save hundreds of stranded migrants trying to reach the shores of Europe.
“We want to protect our countries from illegal immigration and stand up to the boats of NGOs such as the Aquarius,” the group declares on its site.
The Aquarius is the flagship vessel of SOS Méditerranée, a search and rescue initiative at sea. The ship is known for patrolling the “deadliest migration axis in the world, between Libya and Italy,” according to the organization.
To avoid legal troubles, Generation Identitaire specified on its website it would “help” any migrant in distress it encountered before returning them to the African coastline. Failing to assist a person in danger is a civil and criminal liability in France, punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000.
The drive was quite successful (“Defend Europe” raised around €65,000 in contributions, €15,000 more than its initial target), though the campaign did not go over well with the French public.
Outraged by the initiative, netizens mobilized online demanding that PayPal, one of payment sites that allowed funds to be channeled to Generation Identitaire, block the group’s account. Using the Twitter hashtag #StopDefendEuropePayPal, calls were made to boycott the multinational and ban similar fundraisers in the future.
“Paypal has served as an intermediary to collect money to finance an operation aimed at preventing assistance to people in distress and vital emergency” wrote Olivier Ertzscheid, a lecturer in Information Science, on his blog.
Citing Generation Identitaire‘s goals, he added: “‘Sabotaging migrant rescue operations’ and ‘thwarting NGOs ships’ means preventing people from saving lives, the lives of children and their parents fleeing from war, persecution, poverty, and condemn them to drown.”
— JeFreine (@Jefreine) June 11, 2017
The efforts eventually paid off.
Generation Identitaire confirmed to Rue 89 that its account had been blocked was but said they should still be able to retrieve some of the cash.
The far-right group, which clashed with the Italian coast guard last month, plans to continue the “Defend Europe” campaign and to continue accepting more donations via credit card, it told the magazine.
As for Paypal, it is not the first time the company has been involved in politically-charged controversies. In August 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) chastised Paypal for allowing “hate groups”, including several white supremacist sites, to use the payment platform, which it said broke the company’s own guidelines.