The Pasquetta tragedy: “FRONTEX tacitly aiding pushbacks”

Exclusive interview with Nello Scavo, top Italian investigative journalist

If the current situation due to the coronavirus pandemic is akin to war, then it is no surprise that truth is the first casualty. This bitter observation by the Greek philosopher Aeschylus is perfectly mirrored in the replies which veteran top investigative journalist Nello Scavo gave in an exclusive interview with Newsbook.com.mt. Scavo, who boasts of an impressive journalistic pedigree has followed the case of the Easter Migrants closely for the Italian Catholic portal and newspaper L’AVVENIRE.

In the first part of the interview, Scavo pulled no punches. He accused FRONTEX of tacitly aiding and abetting the pushback of migrants to Libya. Scavo also said that leaving the seas free of patrols meant also leaving the seas as an open highway to the trafficking of arms and fuel. He said that Europe, originally the cradle of human rights risks becoming the graveyard of these same rights.

Those terrible hours

Scavo said that the investigation on the case of the migrants who were adrift during Easter weekend is still being conducted. He said that even the journalists were still digging on the facts of the case. Scavo added that the investigations focus on two issues: a masked push-back to Libya and a possible case of sabotage. He said that the allegations are that these were perpetrated by the Maltese Authorities. “The evidence gathered through testimonies during those terrible hours underlines the need for light to be thrown on the events that occurred,” said Scavo.

The allegation that the Maltese Armed Forces were involved in some kind of sabotage is denied by all soldiers involved. Magistrate Joe Mifsud is conducting an inquiry.

Referring to the tragedy at sea which, true to Italian fashion was dubbed ‘La strage di Pasquetta’ (The Pasquetta tragedy) Scavo referred to what Pope Francis said with reference to the coronavirus pandemic: no one saves themselves alone. This insisted Scavo was a vital starting point. “A few days later, when Europe had a perfect chance to demonstrate how no one saves themselves alone, it left a group of migrants adrift in the open seas for 4 days,” said Scavo. He said that Malta and Italy need to make sure that they adhere to international conventions on human rights.

The Ghost Ship

Scavo referred to the end-phase of the Easter Migrants’ saga when a ‘fishing boat’ towed the sinking dinghy and migrants to shore in Libya. Scavo called this boat “una nave fantasma”. This ship has no name, carried no flag, had no call sign and there is no indication as to who was the captain, the crew or the country to which the boat was registered, noted the journalist.

“What was this boat doing in the Mediterranean? It is not normal for a nameless boat to be wandering the European seas,” observed Scavo.

Referring to the statement issued by the Maltese government, Scavo said that since Malta assumed the responsibility for the coordination of the operation, it must know these details. Another curious issue, added Scavo, is that investigations show that the NAVTEX issued by the Maltese authorities for help in rescuing migrants in distress was recalled a few hours later with Malta advising Italy that there was no longer an emergency situation.

“Up till today we have no information whether Italy offered to help and if Malta actually knew the gravity of the situation which the migrants were in,” said Scavo.

FRONTEX aiding push-backs?

Newsbook.com.mt brought up the issue of the possibly misleading FRONTEX report. Frontex had replied to the international news agency AFP that all boats had been accounted for. Later, the boat with migrants, supposedly already accounted for, had turned up on the Libyan shores.

Scavo had much to say about that. “This is a fundamental matter since up to today, the role of Frontex in the Mediterranean is not clear,” said Scavo. He said that in this Easter Migrants saga, FRONTEX pulled the visibility of its aircraft from the public domain. He said that these aircraft are closely followed by some journalists.

“We noticed that when a FRONTEX aircraft patrolled an area where migrants were suspected to be adrift, some hours later a so-called Libyan coast guard vessel would turn up,” observed Scavo. He said that he had published documents on L’AVVENIRE which show that when a migrants’ boat is sighted, FRONTEX advises all the coastguards of the Mediterranean littoral, including Libya.

No denial from Brussels or Rome

“This means that FRONTEX is participating in the tacit push-back of migrants to Libya,” asserted Scavo, adding that he knew that this was a very serious accusation to make.

Citing again the statement made by the Government of Malta, Scavo said that the European Authorities, therefore FRONTEX, were aware of the situation at sea and the dangers which the migrants were in.

“Several days later, neither Rome nor Brussels has denied any part of the statement by the Government of Malta,” said Scavo. He added that the investigations being carried out by the Courts in Malta will show where responsibilities lie, adding that it is unlikely that Malta bears the sole responsibility for the tragedy that occurred.

In the second part of this interview, Nello Scavo will describe how, while migrants are left to die at sea, contraband of arms and fuel reach Libya.