Last Sunday, this newspaper reported that Malta had secretly negotiated an agreement with Libya that sees the Armed Forces of Malta coordinating with the Libyan coast guard to intercept migrants headed out of the North African country. I’m not aware that the Maltese government has denied the existence of the deal; on the contrary, it has all but confirmed it.

I expect that many will think it right of the government to act in the interest of the country. I certainly do. I do not, however, put the value of the interest of the country (whatever that means) above that of human life. Those who disagree might wish to stop reading and join Imperium Europa.

They hold monthly powwows in Dwejra where they sit around a fire with Norman Lowell and discuss the logistics of sinking migrant boats 14 miles out.

There are two reasons why a secret migration deal with Libya is indefensible. The first is that it involves Libya and migration, the second that it is secret.

Nine years ago, I wrote in this column that it was wrong of Prime Ministers Gonzi and Berlusconi to have struck a migration deal with Libya. That deal was also presumably in the national interest, but I argued that letting Gaddafi deal with migrants was like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank.

My reasoning was that Libya then had an appalling human rights record.

There were reams of reliable reports that showed that migrants were being systematically mistreated, at times even taken out to the desert and left to die. This was certainly not a government that could be trusted with deals of this sort. In fact, such deals were an act of complicity with state-sponsored cruelty and murder.

It turns out that what was wrong then is wrong now. Hardly a day passes that the conditions of migrants in Libya do not make the international news. Two days ago, the BBC interviewed a family from Cameroon who were trapped in Libya. The mother, Delphine, and her children had tried to leave Libya on a migrant boat.

Discovered by the coast guard, they were turned back and dumped in a detention centre. Locked up and her sunstroke untreated, Delphine died.

Just this year, hundreds of migrants have died in airstrikes on detention centres. In July, 120 were killed when the Tajoura detention centre took a direct hit.

I struggle to see the logic of championing the welfare of migrants in Malta and being complicit in the exact opposite in Libya

Tajoura is barely a cruel kilometre away from the sea. UN agencies working in Libya describe a situation in which migrants are deliberately targeted, even as they find themselves caught up in conflict between rival warlords. At the best of times, Libya is a migrant limbo. More typically, it’s a migrant hell.

These, then, are the sort of conditions the government of Malta is perfectly happy to see migrants trapped in or returned to. If Gaddafi was Dracula, the armed factions that have replaced him are equally undead.

The reasoning seems to be that any deal’s fair, so long as migrants don’t become a problem for the national interest.

It gets worse. Let’s suppose for a second that Libya was the safest and most stable country in the world, where detention centres dripped five-star luxury and the coast guard was a model of humanitarian action.

I might then accept, in principle, a migrant deal between the governments of Malta and Libya. I still wouldn’t want it to be a secret deal.

Secret deals between states are rarely a good idea. They are especially a bad one when they concern the treatment of vulnerable groups of people. By definition, vulnerable people are in harm’s way and at the mercy of individuals or circumstances. They usually also lack access to standard channels of political representation. The slightest thing that goes wrong will hit them hard, and it will also often go unnoticed.

Which is why any deal that concerns their welfare cannot be fuzzy or open to discretion. On the contrary, it must be formal, transparent and accountable. Only when such deals are open to scrutiny can we be confident of their fairness.

In this case, the fuzziness is such that we don’t even know who the negotiating parties were. According to the press reports, Neville Gafà played an important part. But who exactly is Gafà? Is he highly qualified in humanitarian action? Does he officially represent the government of Malta?

Does he hold a position in the diplomatic service? What exactly is the story behind his connections in Libya?

These are not intended as rhetorical questions. As a citizen of this country, I have a right to know exactly who the people are that are doing deals on my behalf.

I also want to be able to scrutinise those deals for their human rights content, among other things.

The Prime Minister has of late made something of a name for himself as a champion of anything migrant. The other day he went so far as to chide the Archbishop for his inaction on Fr David Muscat’s xenophobic sermons.

Now it’s rather rich of the Prime Minister to be pointing fingers at a fellow leader’s reluctance to weed his patch. Still, the point here’s elsewhere. I for one struggle to see the logic of championing the welfare of migrants in Malta and being complicit in the exact opposite in Libya.

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