A post by Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo thanking the Libyan government for stopping 2,000 migrants from coming to Malta seems to have touched a raw nerve with former OPM official Neville Gafa’, who called him out on social media.
Without mentioning any names, Gafa’ pointed out that someone boasted that it was thanks to his short visit that he managed to persuade the Libyan government from sending over 2,000 migrants to Malta.
“I would like to remind him that, aside from Malta, there is also Lampedusa and Sicily and that the majority of migrants disembark there. I would suggest that he stops speaking about it as though they had a booking to come to Malta!” Gafa’ said in a post on Facebook.
Gafa’ was referring to a post uploaded by Bartolo at 4 am on Thursday where he thanked the Libyan government for stopping human traffickers from sending migrants to Malta. This took place through the work of the Maltese authorities with the Libyans where “a new page of cooperation was bearing fruit – even though small steps had been made so far and there was more to be done”.
The foreign minister also referred to a short visit to Tripoli where he accompanied Prime Minister Robert Abela on 28 May. Since then, the Libyan government has taken serious action against human traffickers who made millions each year by sending migrants to Malta and Italy, Bartolo said.
In a lengthy post, Bartolo said the Maltese government would continue working with the Libyan authorities for more “decent” centres where the migrants would no longer be controlled by human traffickers and would be able to apply for asylum.
However, Gafa’ felt he had to give a piece of advice to Bartolo.
“I recommend that he builds up the courage to visit the detention centres before commenting about them,” Gafa’ said. If not, it was better not to say anything.
However, to actually visit these centres, one needed to spend at least a week in Libya – “just like I used to do. But the only difference was that you visited Tripoli when the fighting stopped”.
Turning to Abela’s official visit, Gafa pointed out that it lasted a total of three hours, which was not enough to solve anything with the Libyan government. “These Libyan SAR interceptions have been carried out for years before he has even tried to speak about migration”.
The visit was also given very little coverage in the Libyan media, he added.
Gafa’s reaction to Bartolo’s post came in the wake of the revelations made by the former OPM official earlier this year when he said he brokered a secret deal with the Libyan government during his visits between June 2018 and January 2020 – until he resigned after Joseph Muscat stepped down.
While testifying before a board of public inquiry looking into the death of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, Gafa’ said he had saved thousands of lives of migrants in his role as “coordinator” at the Office of the Prime Minister where thousands of migrants on different vessels were stopped from entering Malta by the Libyan Coastguard.
Through Gafa’, 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 takes them back to Libya before these enter Malta’s territorial waters.
Earlier this week, The Shift revealed that Gafa’ won a legal battle to keep more than €6,500 in “extra” overtime payments after a court threw out the health authorities request for a refund on a legal technicality.
A self-declared person of trust, Gafa’ was removed from his role as “coordinator” at the Office of the Prime Minister when Abela was sworn in as prime minister. A close friend of the former chief of staff Keith Schembri, Gafa’ was recently spotted accompanying Schembri before his testimony in court on Monday.