Neville Gafà reveals controversial secret migration pact with Libya

Malta actively engaged with Libya to prevent hundreds of asylum seekers and migrants from leaving Libyan waters and to be forcibly returned to the place they were escaping from

Malta had a secret pact with Libya to stop migrant boats before they exited Libyan waters and the lynchpin was former government official Neville Gafà.

Gafà lifted the lid on this controversial arrangement which he helped broker in the summer of 2018 on direct orders from the Office of the Prime Minister.

In an interview with MaltaToday, Gafà said that he used his contacts in Libya to establish a rapport with the Libyan coastguard and the interior ministry. “I used to receive information of boats departing from Libya and their coordinates from the Armed Forces of Malta and would relay this directly to the Libyan coastguard… These were operations that would last for hours on end,” he said.

Between July 2018 and January 2019 alone, around 53 migrant boats were prevented from reaching Malta’s search and rescue area in this way.

But it remains a controversial policy, showing Malta actively tried to prevent asylum seekers and other migrants from leaving Libya and find a place of safety, by collaborating directly with Libyan coastguards to prevent them from entering international waters and the Maltese search and rescue area.

“We averted a national crisis,” Gafà added, defending his actions and insisting this was not a pushback because boats were intercepted in Libyan waters by the Libyan coastguard.

Gafà denied that the Libyan authorities had asked for something in return, adding that there was an obligation on their part to repay Malta’s decision in 2014 to take in Libyan patients injured during the fighting.

Gafà also defended his meetings with Libyan warlord Haithem Tajouri, who is slapped with UN sanctions over accusations that he breached human rights.

“I met Mr Tajouri more than once, just like the French and Italian authorities met him. I also met other militia leaders. Tajouri has one of the largest militias… these militias control the territory in Libya and it is important to maintain contact with them,” he said.

Gafà was employed in the Office of the Prime Minister on a person of trust basis by Joseph Muscat but resigned last month after Robert Abela became Prime Minister.

Last week, he testified in the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry, speaking for the first time on the migration pact he helped broker.

FULL INTERVIEW in MaltaToday on Sunday • read a PDF version here