The Libyan embassy in Malta on Monday denied the existence of a secret deal between Malta and the Tripoli government to intercept boats carrying migrants and return them to Libya, despite the Maltese government having all but confirmed it.
The deal was exclusively revealed by The Sunday Times of Malta and subsequently reported in the European media.
"The Libyan Embassy to Malta strongly denies the existence of any such deals
between the two governments. However, the two governments do collaborate
transparently in the field of illegal immigration and other smuggling activities across the Mediterranean, within the framework of the 5+5 arrangements and in accordance with their obligations under international law, and international humanitarian law," the embassy said, 24 hours after the story was published.
"Thanks to this cooperation on the part of Libya with Malta, Italy, and other European Union countries, thousands of innocent lives have been rescued over the last decade," the embassy said.
The 5+5 arrangements are agreements reached at meetings of five EU and North African countries.
Secret deal reports
The Sunday Times 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 towards the island and returned to the war-torn North African country.
The agreement for “mutual cooperation” was struck between members of the AFM and the Libyan coast guard, with government official Neville Gafà acting as an intermediary.
A government source told The Sunday Times: “We reached what you could call an understanding with the Libyans. When there is a vessel heading towards our waters, the AFM coordinates with the Libyans who pick them up and take them back to Libya before they come into our waters and become our responsibility.”
He added that had the agreement not been reached with Libya then the island would have been “drowning in migrants” by now.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said that bilateral meetings on various sectors were held on a regular basis and Malta always acted in accordance with applicable international laws and conventions.
“The EU is actively advocating in favour of compliance with instructions of competent authorities and against the obstruction of operations of the Libyan EU-funded and trained coast guard to help support migration management and fight smuggling.”
The search and rescue areas form part of high seas where foreign military assets have every right to investigate any illegal activity departing from their coast, the spokesman added.
“In the past months, Malta has continued to welcome on a humanitarian basis migrants and asylum seekers, even when not legally obliged to do so, in a spirit of cooperation with other European states and solidarity with migrants.”