‘I haven’t even begun:’ Neville Gafà stands by pushbacks

Claims NGOs are seeking his prosecution in the International Criminal Court

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

In a defiant, aggressive post on Facebook, controversial former OPM operative Neville Gafà lashed out at humanitarian NGOs which, he claimed, were seeking his prosecution in the International Criminal Court for human rights violations over his efforts to prevent would-be asylum seekers from reaching Malta.

Gafà claimed that Maltese individuals were assisting these NGOs in their efforts, and threatened to reveal their names should he be asked to testify in a magisterial inquiry.

His comment came as a humanitarian NGO – Sea-Watch – accused Malta of allowing a Libyan coastguard vessel to pick up a group of asylum seekers in Malta’s search-and-rescue area, in what appeared to be a pushback.

In comments made to Newsbook.com.mt last April, Gafà said that he had been coordinating pushbacks to Libya for the past three years, later clarifying that he worked to ensure that asylum seekers’ boats did not reach Malta’s search-and-rescue zone. However, his comments had been made in the wake of the Pasquetta tragedy, with the group in question having reached Malta’s SAR before being pushed back.

Such pushbacks are a breach of international law under the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits sending asylum seekers back to a country where they are likely to face danger. In light of Libya’s notorious migrant detention camps and its ongoing civil war, it is difficult to argue that the country constitutes a safe destination.

Gafà’s populist rhetoric

The rhetoric Gafà used in his statement was generally reminiscent of the far right, despite his association with an ostensibly social-democrat party, with the former OPM operative repeatedly referring to humanitarian NGOs as “criminal European associations.”

He insisted that the NGOs rubbed their hands in glee when he resigned from the Office of the Prime Minister last January, “because none were as conscious of the results our country achieved.”

“My message to these associations and their allies is this: I haven’t even begun,” he added.

Gafà also pledged to continue promoting a petition to the Parliament of Malta, presented by a certain Giuseppe Aquilina and titled “Malta, too small to accept more illegal immigrants.” The petition has already attracted 39,506 signatories, according to Parliament’s website.

“I assure you that in the coming weeks, I will continue my efforts to ensure that Malta does not end up transformed into a refugee camp,” Gafà said.

“And I assure these criminal European organisations that while I no longer form part of the government, I will  be using my experience and my contacts to safeguard our country’s national security,” he said.