Pope Francis Decries ‘Shameful’ Migrant Sea Deaths in Mediterranean

Pope Francis celebrates Mass on the occasion of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (Remo Casilli/Pool via AP)
Remo Casilli/Pool via AP

ROME — Pope Francis denounced the indifference of those who “prefer to look the other way” rather than assist migrants attempting to cross from Africa into Europe.

“I confess I am extremely sad over the tragedy that has once again taken place in the Mediterranean,” the pope said Sunday following his prayer of the Regina Caeli. “One hundred thirty migrants died in the sea.”

The pontiff was referring to the 130 African migrants bound for Europe who drowned off the coast of Libya on Thursday after Libyan human traffickers loaded them aboard vessels.

“They are people,” the pontiff continued. “They are human beings who begged for help in vain for two whole days — help that never arrived.”

“Brothers and sisters, let us all ask ourselves about this umpteenth tragedy,” Francis said. “It is a shameful moment.”

“Let us pray for these brothers and sisters, and for all those who continue to die in these tragic crossings,” he concluded. “Let us also pray for those who can help but prefer to look the other way.”

Although the pope did not name names regarding those who “prefer to look the other way,” accusations have flown as different groups attempt to pin the blame for the deaths on the people smugglers, the Libyan coast guard, Frontex, national governments, or on NGOs that encourage migrants to undertake the perilous crossing.

The NGO Sea-Watch International tweeted Friday that “130 people drowned – EU authorities & Frontex knew about the distress case, but denied rescue.”

“States stood defiant and refused to act to save the lives of more than 100 people,” wrote the spokesperson for the U.N.’s International Organization for Migrants (IOM), Safa Mshli. “They pleaded and sent distress calls for two days before they drowned in the blue Mediterranean cemetery.”

“Is this Europe’s legacy?” she asked.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy,” declared Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, in a statement.

“Once again, criminal gangs have crammed desperate people onto a boat unsuitable for navigation in terrible weather conditions and pushed them into the sea, putting profits ahead of life,” it said.

The agency also reported it had “immediately alerted the national rescue centers in Italy, Malta and Libya, as required by international law” as well as issuing “several distress calls on the emergency marine radio channel to alert all ships in the vicinity of the critical situation and bad weather.”

The Libyan coast guard reportedly declared it would not send out rescue craft to look for the boat in distress because of the severe weather conditions.

For his part, Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s Lega party, blamed facilitators of international migration for the catastrophe, saying the latest victims are “on the conscience of the do-gooders.”

“More deaths, more blood on the conscience of the do-gooders who, in fact, invite and facilitate smugglers and traffickers to put very old dinghies and boats into the sea, even in bad weather conditions,” Salvini tweeted. “A prayer and a lot of anger.”

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