PM’s Libyan envoy Neville Gafà brokers secret migrant deal

Gafa has refused to comment on the reports, stating that he cannot do so without the permission of his superiors 

OPM official Neville Gafa
OPM official Neville Gafa

Malta has negotiated an agreement with Libya, in a deal that sees the Armed Forces of Malta coordinating with the Libyan coast guard to intercept migrants heading towards Maltese waters.

According to the “mutual cooperation”, intercepted migrants are returned to Libya, in a blatant violation of human rights laws.

Government official Neville Gafa, who has repeatedly come under fire for repeated allegations related to bribery for the issuing of medical visas to Libyan officials, acted as intermediary, The Sunday Times of Malta has reported.

Gafa declined to comment about any details of the report, and said that he couldn’t do so without permission from his superiors.

Government sources told the newspaper that talks regarding the cooperation started around a year ago.

“We reached what you could call an understanding with the Libyans. When there is a vessel heading towards our waters, the AFM coordinates with the Libyans who pick them up and take them back to Libya before they come into our waters and become our responsibility,” the source said.

The government source went on to say that had the agreement not been reached, the island would have been “drowning in migrants”.

A Prime Minister spokesperson said that bilateral meetings regarding various sectors were held on a regular basis, with Malta always acting in accordance with international law and regulation.

“The EU is actively advocating in favour of compliance with instructions of competent authorities and against the obstruction of operations of the Libyan EU-funded and trained coastguard to help support migration management and fight smuggling,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson also added that the search and rescue areas form part of high seas where foreign military assets have every right to investigate any illegal activity departing from their coast.

“In the past months, Malta has continued to welcome on a humanitarian basis migrants and asylum seekers, even when not legally obliged to do so, in a spirit of cooperation with other European states and solidarity with migrants,” the spokesperson said.

The Office of the Prime Minister refused to answer to a question on whether the Libyan coast guard had entered Malta’s search and rescue area at least once.

A question on whether the Maltese Government recognizes Libya as a safe port, was also not answered.

In a tweet on one such particular incident, which took place on October 18, Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s special envoy for the Central Mediterranean, said he believes the case may have constituted a violation of maritime law.

“The problem is that the migrants were disembarked in Libya. That’s certainly a violation of maritime laws. It’s clear that Libya isn’t a safe port,” he said.

The UNHCR office in Rome has also reached out to the authorities for an explanation, but is still waiting for a response.

While the list of human rights violations against Libya’s coast guard is long, with torture, the hindering of search and rescue operations and ties to smuggling gangs all being cited, the government source said that it followed similar understandings reached in the past, when a deal was brokered between the Libyan and Italian governments.