Neville Gafa’s statement that in court that he “saved thousands of lives” in his role as “coordinator” at the Office of the Prime Minister by coordinating with the Libyan authorities to send thousands of migrants back raised a few eyebrows.
It was the first time that Gafa himself openly spoke out about his role in the secretive deal that he had brokered with the Libyan government during his visits between June 2018 and January 2020 – until he resigned after Joseph Muscat stepped down.
During his testimony before the public board of inquiry that is looking into whether the death of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia could have been avoided, Gafa said:
“My intervention prevented migrants from entering Malta. I used to coordinate with the Armed Forces of Malta and the Libyan Coastguard. When we knew where the boats were, we would inform the Libyan authorities to save these people. I did this until I resigned”.
One day later, Gafa elaborated in a lengthy post on his Facebook page that “it clearly emerged that thousands of migrants on different vessels were stopped from entering Malta”.
The number of migrants that were turned back while he was coordinator was “phenomenal”.
This coordination between the two countries would not have been able to take place and achieve these results, had it not been for his trips to Libya and would have led to a “national crisis”.
He goes on to say that his work created a “priceless act of humanity” because thousands of migrants, including women and children, saved. “I am proud of all I achieved in the interest of national security”.
His trips to Libya were on behalf of the Maltese government to negotiate this deal, where migrants were sent back to war-torn Libya – a place which has been repeatedly described as unsafe, dangerous and lacking in basic human rights.
Libyan authorities must investigate the fate of these people and dismantle the system of arbitrary detention, under which thousands have been abused and trafficked. pic.twitter.com/dQrJz6zUsx
— Safa Msehli (@msehlisafa) February 19, 2020
The United Nations has repeatedly stated that people rescued from the Mediterranean “should not be taken back to Libya because it cannot be considered a safe port while the UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean, Vincent Cochetel, reiterated several times that there was no known safe port in Libya. The European Commission also said that the country fails to meet basic international standards for disembarking rescued migrants because “it does not believe these conditions are being met in Libya.”
There is growing concern about the disembarkations of migrants in Libya as, just this week, the International Organization for Migration called on the international community including the European Union to find an alternative safe mechanism for migrants after roughly 200 were returned to Tripoli, hours after the city’s main port was heavily bombed.
UNHCR with partner @IMC_Worldwide provided emergency & medical help to 240 people who were intercepted at sea & brought to Tripoli by Libya Coastguard.
We continue to emphasise Libya ?? is not a safe port for disembarkation pic.twitter.com/RWxcE0RhfM
— UNHCR Libya (@UNHCRLibya) February 18, 2020
Gafa travelled to Libya with Kenneth Camilleri – a man who has been mentioned by Melvin Theuma, the middleman involved in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Camilleri used to form part of Muscat’s security detail and, before that, worked for the security services. He accompanied Gafa during his visits to Libya to “protect” him. Corinne Vella, Caruana Galizia’s sister, posted a photo of the two men on her Facebook page.
Gafà was employed in 2013 as projects director of the Foundation for Medical Services under the Health Ministry. When Chris Fearne was appointed Health Minister, he worked there up until April 2016, after which his contract was terminated. “Till this day, I don’t know why,” he told the inquiry board.
His termination came soon after he was implicated in an alleged medical visas racket where he was accused of collecting thousands of euro to apply for visas for injured Libyans to be treated in Malta. These, however, never saw the visas.
He was then employed as a person of trust with OPM. However, for a number of months, it was not clear who and where he was working. Even Muscat said could not remember which ministry was employing Gafa.
However, when pressed to answer questions on Gafa’s employment after revelations of another recent trip to Libya, Muscat had said that he was there on official government business, despite Gafa facing accusations of fraud in multiple cases before the courts.