Friday

14th Aug 2020

Deaths at sea case raises questions over Malta's role

  • Malta's government is under fresh scrutiny for its alleged role in a push-back of migrants at sea (Photo: Neil Howard)

Malta's government allegedly outsourced a push-back of migrants over the Easter weekend where at least twelve people died.

The revelation comes via a sworn testimony by a former operative inside the prime minister's office.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"It is the first time that there has been admission of this, and the government continues to be silent," Manuel Delia, a journalist and a committee member of the Malta-based NGO Repubblika, told EUobserver on Thursday (30 April).

The NGO filed a police report, which started a criminal investigation into the deaths of those onboard a rubber boat carrying 63 people, and which had departed from Libya on 9 April.

The boat was spotted three days later in Malta's search-and-rescue zone, before those onboard were eventually sent back to Libya. Only 51 landed in Libya alive. Seven were declared missing and another five corpses were recovered from the boat.

At the heart of the controversy is Neville Gafa, an individual who belonged to an inner circle of Maltese politicians probed for their suspected role in the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Gafa is cited in a Maltese media outlet saying he had received instructions from the prime minister's office, for the past three years, to ensure migrants never reached Malta's search and rescue zone.

"I did all this on the instructions of the Office of the Prime Minister, after the said office asked me to assist through direct coordination with the Libyan home affairs ministry and the Libyan Coast Guard. I was asked to do this since I have been involved in these operations for the past three years," he said.

This latest incident, however, took on a more sinister role because a Maltese boat flying a Libyan flag is said to have been behind the push-back, which occurred within Malta's area of responsibility.

The boat is said to have left Malta's Grand Harbour, arrived at the scene with its flag removed and name painted over, in a broader operation coordinated by the armed forces of Malta.

Despite a port entry ban on all foreign ships because of the pandemic, the boat was allowed to return to Malta's Grand Harbour after sailing to Libya.

Alarm Phone, a crisis hotline for migrants in need of rescue at sea, said Malta had effectively abandoned their international duties and left the victims to die.

They said authorities in Malta, Italy, Libya, Portugal, Germany, as well as the EU border agency Frontex had all been informed about the group.

"The distress case has been known to the European authorities for six days, upon aerial sighting by a Frontex asset on April 10," it said.

Malta responds

For its part, Malta says they didn't rescue the people because the boat had already been in distress for a number of days while in Libya's search and rescue area.

"The European Union was aware of the boat as it was located in Libya's search and rescue area. The EU flew its aircrafts over the area but did not send any vessels to pick up the migrants," it said, in a statement.

It further added a Libyan fishing vessel took the migrants on board, in what now appears to be the boat under fresh scrutiny.

Asked to comment on the incident, Frontex' chief Fabrice Leggeri told MEPs earlier this week that they had spotted at least four boats leaving Libya over the Easter break.

Leggeri said they had monitored the boats constantly for five days, sharing the sightings with all maritime rescue coordination centres.

"Of course, we insisted more on the ones that were competent, depending on the places where the boats were but our practice is that we inform, we share in real-time the sightings with all maritime rescue coordination centres," he said.

The European Commission, when pressed, refused to weigh-in on the case. A spokesperson told this website it cannot provide any legal analysis because search and rescues are outside its remit.

"Nor am I in a position to say about what would be the consequences under this or that scenario," he said.

The EU has helped finance and set up Libya's search and rescue zone to the tune of some €90m.

Interview

Cloud of mistrust over Malta's new government

Malta's new government does not look likely to turn it into a normal, law-abiding EU state any time soon, the son of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has said.

Malta patrol boat 'intimidates' capsized migrants

Alarm Phone, a hotline service for migrants in distress, has released video footing showing an Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) boat making dangerous manoeuvres next to people swimming for their lives at sea. Malta does not deny the footage.

EU Commission seeks help as hundreds stuck off Malta coast

Hundreds of people who fled Libya have been stuck off the Maltese coast as the government in Valletta refuses to allow them to disembark. The European Commission is demanding EU states step in to help relocate them.

News in Brief

  1. Amazon people urge EU banks to stop funding pollution
  2. Russia vaccine could be "dangerous", Germany says
  3. EU to finance new Covid-19 research projects
  4. Croatia receives EU earthquake relief funds
  5. Facemasks required throughout Brussels
  6. EU opposes Mexico's transparent junk food labels
  7. Greece accuses Turkey of 'escalation' in maritime dispute
  8. Slovakia expels three Russians linked to Berlin murder

Border pre-screening centres part of new EU migration pact

Michael Spindelegger, the former minister of foreign affairs of Austria and current director of the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), reveals some of the proposals in the European Commission's upcoming pact on migration and asylum.

EU boosts pledges to relocate minors from Greece

Over 120 asylum seeking children and teenagers in Greece have so far been relocated to a handful of EU states in a scheme the European Commission says is a demonstration of solidarity. EU states have pledged to take in 2,000.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. Belarus violence goes on, as EU ministers scramble
  2. French navy to deter Turkey's oil and gas grab
  3. EU ministers urged to talk Belarus, Turkey sanctions
  4. Drums of war again, in Europe
  5. EU looks on as Belarus protests turn lethal
  6. EU virus-alert agency says new restrictions needed
  7. Minsk violence prompts talk of EU sanctions
  8. Schrems privacy ruling risks EU's ties to digital world

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us