[WATCH] PM says Gafà called in for Libyan assistance in pushback of boat migrants

Prime Minister Robert Abela says Neville Gafas called in to save lives 

Neville Gafà
Neville Gafà
PM says Gafà called in for Libyan assistance in pushback of boat migrants

The former OPM coordinator Neville Gafà was contacted by the Maltese government to get in contact with his Libyan sources “in an effort to save lives”, Prime Minister Robert Abela has claimed.

Malta dispatched a small fleet of private merchant vessels in April to intercept migrants at sea and return them by force to Libya, a move that is considered to be illegal in international law. The government denies it is a pushback.

The prime minister has also said that Gafà had no role in coordinating a search and rescue operation of boat migrants, and was only contacted by government for his contacts with Libyan sources.

“The government will do anything to save lives, they are human like us,” Abela insisted, despite having refused entry to Maltese ports to asylum seekers rescue in the Maltese SAR at sea.

Abela said the Search and Rescue Convention only binds Malta to coordinate the rescue. “The State can coordinate that rescue with its own assets or private assets,” Abela said, referring to the use of a Captain Morgan tourist cruise ferry that has been sent to keep a boatload of some 66 men rescued at sea, outside the Maltese SAR pending some form of EU intervention

Abela insisted that Malta remains an unsafe port for migrants due to the COVID-19 pandemic and that the State cannot guarantee the safety of those seeking asylum.

He said this while announcing a major breakthrough in COVID-19 infection rates, that will allow Maltese businesses to re-open on Monday.

“The decision is based on advice given by the public health superintendent, and it would be contradictory in allowing the opening of ports while having a close airport,” he said.

He said that Malta had always shouldered its international obligations, sometimes “going over and above”. 

Abela insisted no pushback had been carried out, when a boat was taken back to Tripoli by a Maltese boat owner who is believed to have been contacted by the Maltese government to effect the pushback. “Malta coordinated with Libya authorities, and the migrants were taken to the closest safe port,” he said. 

Abela said he was not satisfied over discussions he has had with the European Commission, and insisted Malta will continue to strive for a better deal. He also said it would be Brussels to pick up the bill for the chartering of private boats to take in migrants. “It cannot be that Malta and Italy continue to shoulder such a burden,” he said.