[WATCH] Malta ready to help Libyan goverment with internal problems - Deputy PM

Chris Fearne says Malta is prepared to help Libya solve its internal problems but avoids giving more details on alleged migration deal between both countries

The Libyan coastguard has been involved in migrant rescues, although the UN still considers Libya to be an unsafe port because of ongoing violence
The Libyan coastguard has been involved in migrant rescues, although the UN still considers Libya to be an unsafe port because of ongoing violence
Malta ready to help Libyan government with internal problems - Deputy PM

Malta is ready to join other European countries in helping Libya solve its "internal problems", Chris Fearne said.

The Deputy Prime Minister was reacting to reports last Sunday that Malta had negotiated an agreement with Libya, in a deal which sees the Armed Forces of Malta coordinating with the Libyan coast guard to intercept migrants heading towards Maltese waters.

Fearne avoided giving more details on the alleged deal.

"I believe yesterday the Foreign Minister gave comments on this and said Malta is ready to, together with other European countries, help the Libyan government solve internal Libyan problems," he said. "Their internal problems remain their own, but we are ready to help."

Fearne's reply reflects comments made by Carmelo Abela during Monday's EU Foreign Affairs Council, where he said Malta would continue supporting the UN-led process, spearheaded by the UN's Special Representative for Libya and the head of the UN's Libyan support mission Ghassan Salamé.

The Deputy Prime Minister, however, avoided saying whether he agreed that migrants escaping Libya be turned back instead of being allowed to enter a safe European port to apply for asylum.

According to The Sunday Times of Malta, government official Neville Gafa - who has repeatedly come under fire for allegations of bribery in the issuing of medical visas to Libyans - acted as an intermediary in brokering the deal between the Maltese and Libyan governments.

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”.

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 recognised Libya as a safe port, was also not answered.

Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Central Mediterranean special envoy, writing on Twitter about one such particular incident which took place on 18 October, said he believed 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,” Cochetel said.

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

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