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Dodging the truth on pushback

Neville Gafa Libya
Neville Gafà with Libyan Interior Minister Commissioner Fathi Pasha in Tripoli

“I was mistaken when it comes to the pushback,” Joseph Muscat said last month, in the wake of a barrage of anti-migrant hate speech that shocked the island.

The Prime Minister was referring to threats he made in 2013 to ‘push back’ a group of Somalian asylum seekers by returning them to war-torn Libya under police guard.

The European Commission told Malta that “push back” risked violating both European Union and international law, but Muscat was determined to go ahead with it anyway, claiming he was acting in the national interest. He was only prevented from carrying out his threats by an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights.

But that ugly mess is behind us now, and Joseph Muscat has turned over a new leaf. Right?

He said so after Malta was shaken by its first racially-motivated killing, the drive-by shooting of Lassana Cisse Souleymane, and later by a barrage of racist hate speech on social media that called for migrants to be gassed “Hitler-style”.

“We are a country of immigration,” Muscat said last month. “We went around the world. Ask your relatives whether how they were treated abroad affected how they lived.”

He said these things in parliament on 22 October — four months after admitting that Neville Gafa had represented the Maltese government in talks with the Libyan government last June.

Now we know what those talks were about.

Malta negotiated a secret agreement with Libya to intercept migrant vessels. When the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) spots a boat, they contact the Libyan Coast Guard, and the Libyan Coast Guard swoops in and grabs them before they enter Malta’s territorial waters, taking them back to war-torn Libya, with its torture, extortion rackets and active slave trade.

Yes, slave trade. They’re selling people just over the horizon. And you are complicit in it, thanks to the deal this government — and Gafa — struck in your name.

It sounds a lot like ‘pushback’, doesn’t it? The very same thing the ECHR blocked Muscat from doing back in 2013 because it violated international law. And the very same thing Muscat was pontificating against last month in parliament.

“I was mistaken when it comes to the pushback.”

He stood up in parliament and said these words in full knowledge of the secret deal his friend Gafa had reached with the Libyans four months earlier. The deal that’s in effect right now.

If he lied about that so brazenly while pretending to care about people drowning in the Mediterranean, then what else has he lied to you about?

Did he lie about Egrant while crying crocodile tears on television, knowing full well the Egrant report would never be published? Did he lie about his closest associates, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, and what he knew about 17 Black? Did he lie about the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia? What else is Muscat hiding?

And why is he protecting Gafa? It’s not like Malta is lacking qualified people. They’ve handled the country’s foreign relations for all these years. So why did Muscat opt for a scoundrel with no official appointment (since everyone, including the Prime Minister refused to admit he worked for them)? Was it because no real diplomat would negotiate such a dirty deal?

He was never really investigated for the medical visa scandal, either. Instead, the police went after the whistleblower to confirm Gafa had done nothing wrong. The case is only in court right now because Gafa himself filed a libel suit against the newspaper that first reported the story. I don’t think he expected several witnesses to testify against him from Libya after his attempts to buy their silence.

The stench of that story wasn’t going away. Did the government weigh its options and decide to reveal what Gafa was really up to in order to spin him as some sort of hero who saved Malta from the African hordes? 

He is certainly pushing public opinion in that direction.

“Great deal for Malta,” one commenter said.

“I don’t like Gafa because of all this dodgy stuff,” said another, “but at least he has one redeeming factor, that of stemming the flow of illegals.”

The general sentiment was expressed by the commenter who wrote, “Excellent news, this should have been done years ago”.

This is what Muscat meant when he said Gafa was doing “very good work”. It’s another example of a populist leader playing on people’s fears. ‘Okay, Neville Gafa is a bottom-feeding lowlife, and he’s utterly unqualified to negotiate anything beyond what colour of frame you want for your bifocals (if that) — but he sure put a stop to those Africans for us.’

Contrast that reality with the self-righteous Muscat who stood up in parliament just last week and said, “I appeal to parents watching me on TV right now—if a person is drowning in the Mediterranean, would you save them?”

Apparently, the answer is ‘no’.

The ‘government source’ who leaked the story on this shameful deal justified Malta’s migrant push back with whataboutism, saying that Italy had reached a similar agreement with Libya.

Not much of an excuse, is it? “Italy’s letting people drown, too!” I’m okay, fuck you Jack. Slavery, torture, and human trafficking in Libya are not my problem.

There was a time when the world admired the bravery of an island people who stood defiant in the face of fascism. It’s clear that time has passed.

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