The Malta Independent 22 October 2020, Thursday

Updated (2): Government denies that Gafa coordinated migrants' rescue on its behalf

Albert Galea Thursday, 30 April 2020, 10:31 Last update: about 7 months ago

The government has denied that Neville Gafa coordinated the rescue of a boat of 51 migrants on behalf of the Maltese government itself.

"With reference to a number of media reports on the coordination of the rescue operation at sea carried out by the Maltese authorities on the 15th of April 2020, Government denies that Mr Neville Gafa coordinated this rescue on its behalf, as incorrectly alleged in these reports", the spokesperson told The Malta Independent.

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The denial comes after Gafa said under oath that he was asked by the Office of the Prime Minister for help in coordinating the pushback of illegal immigrants who had left Libya and were en-route to Malta.

"While Government was conducting discussions with the official Libyan authorities, it was noted that Mr Gafa had publicly ascertained in the past that he had established contacts in Libya. He was thus asked to approach his contacts in the Libyan Government. This in the particular context of Malta's public health emergency due to Covid-19", the spokesperson added. 

"Government was and remains committed in taking the necessary actions to coordinate the saving of lives at sea, whilst remaining steadfast in protecting the health, well-being and safety of its people, in line with the directives issued by the Superintendent of Public Health", he continued. 

"As the smallest nation in the European Union, Malta keeps facing a disproportionate burden, alone. While always doing its part on the humanitarian front, Malta expects the principle of solidarity to be put into action", the spokesperson concluded.

Gafa spoke of his involvement in the rescue with Newsbook.com.mt on Wednesday night.

“I confirm that on Easter night and the days that followed I was involved in a mission in which a boat with 51 irregular migrants including 8 women and 3 minors were taken to port in Tripoli. On the same boat were five corpses”, he told them.

He also said that he had coordinated another boat with 30 tons of food and drink to Tripoli.

He claimed he took action on the instructions of the Office of the Prime Minister after it asked him to assist through direct coordination with the Libyan Home Affairs ministry and the Libyan Coast Guard.

The boat, which spent several days stranded in Maltese waters, was returned to Libya on 15 April with 51 people onboard.  The boat had five corpses onboard, while the remaining survivors said that a further seven people were missing. Malta had not accepted to rescue the boat, saying that it was not in a position to guarantee the rescue and will not allow disembarkations as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

NGO Repubblika had filed a police report on the case, kicking off an investigation into Prime Minister Robert Abela and Armed Forces of Malta Brigadier Jeffrey Curmi.

Neville Gafa is, himself, a controversial figure. He was sacked by the Office of the Prime Minister from his role – which was shrouded in mystery for a long time – last January, and is also allegedly at the heart of a medical visa racket for Libyan nationals.  he has also admitted to meeting a Libyan militia leader in Tripoli.

Gafa, who is usually very secretive about the exact nature of his work in Libya, began posting actively on his Facebook page soon after the controversy surrounding the boat of migrants had abated.

His most recent post coming three days ago in reaction to an article published by the Italian news portal Avvenire.it which chronicles the events surrounding that boat.

“It is clear that they are not pleased with the work I have carried out in recent years so to ensure that no irregular immigrants enter Malta. I used to do this by uncovering the routes which the immigrants used to take to escape from Libya and sail to Malta, with the consequence that they would end in our country”, Gafa wrote.

“Like I said in court a few weeks ago, between July 2018 and January 2020, the period when I used to coordinate these operations, the number of irregular immigrants which were going to come into our country was going to be phenomenal.”

In other posts, Gafa alleged that two of the people onboard had contacted an Italian lawyer – Lucia Gennaro – to open a case at the European Court of Human Rights, something which, he said, “continues to confirm the major organization which exists when it comes to irregular immigration, where these immigrants would have in their possession information with names and numbers of lawyers.”

“The immigrants also have a choice over which NGO they prefer, and also on which lawyer they prefer”, he said.

He alleged further that the NGO Alarm Phone – which was the first to report the presence of the boat – was informed about the number of people onboard the boat and its point of departure from Libya.  “If it is proven that both the NGO Alarm Phone and the Italian lawyer Lucia Gennaro had logistical knowledge which they failed to pass to Maltese or Italian authorities, then an investigation can be opened and they may be accused of negligent conduct which caused death”, Gafa said.

He continued in another post that the dinghies that are used are all fitted with navigational systems and satellite telephones through which NGOs have information about all the boats leaving Libya.

Communication between the NGOs and these boats begins either before or while they are leaving the coast when the NGOs will immediately know their exact position, he said.

“Many times, the NGOs inform Maltese and Italian authorities with false coordinates of the boat as soon as the boat exits the Libyan search and rescue zone.  This is so the Maltese and Italian authorities begin the search for these boats in the wrong zone, so the irregular immigrants have a greater opportunity to arrive in the zone where the NGO ship is”, Gafa said, noting that this all makes it easier for immigrants to be picked up by NGO boats.

Gafa declaration 'shocking' - Repubblika

NGO Repubblika, which had filed a police report against the government and AFM on the case, called the new developments "shocking", and noted that Gafa's declaration accuses the Prime Minister of ordering actions which breaks Malta's obligations under the European Convention for Human Rights.

"We expect these accusations to be investigated in depth and that the necessary steps are taken depending on the results", they said.

"Neville Gafa testified that the Maltese government took part in an illegal operation in coordination with people who use torture, rape, and illegal detention as tools to take advantage of their victims", the NGO continued, noting that Gafa's statement breaks the governemnt's silence.

"That which Gafa testified means that the government acted outside Maltese ad International law, in complicity with and in a secret agreement with agents consistently accused by the United Nations of systematically breaching human rights laws.  This is not the behaviour of a democratic state which respects rule of law", they said.

Repubblika therefore called for an independent, public inquiry to establish the facts. 

They expressed sadness for the migrants who had fallen victims to the government's actions, and also lamented that the government had not kept its promise to submit to rule of law and start cleaning up Malta's international reputation but instead made the situation worse.

 

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