An Italian bishop has decried the “genocide” of migrants and refugees drowning in the Mediterranean.

– Sea “turning into a bloodbath”

“The more we move forward, the worse things get: our humanitarian conscience is dull with regard to these people who are trying to save themselves”, Domenico Mogavero, the bishop of Mazara del Vallo, denounced in comments reported August 21 by Vatican News.

Mogavero – who as pastor of the southwestern Sicilian town since 2007 knows well the tragic reality of migrants in the Mediterranean – was speaking just after the deadliest shipwreck to date this year off the coast of Libya in which at least 45 people – including five children – lost their lives August 17 trying to reach European shores.

“The tragic thing is that while Europe and Italy… are watching, Libya and Malta seem to find every loophole to return to the detention camps those who, by paying, try to reach our shores to restore hope to their lives”, Bishop Mogavero deplored.

The prelate added, in even stronger words: “There is a conspiracy of silences but also of serious omissions that is really turning this sea into a bloodbath beyond what we could have imagined”.

– Mediterranean no longer Mare Nostrum

Mogavero said that he has always thought of the Mediterranean as “so many migrants’ last bastion of freedom”.

Now, however, after the latest tragedy off the Libyan coast, the bishop said he preferred to describe the Mediterranean as the “sea of evil”.

“It is difficult for me to declare [the Mediterranean the] Mare Nostrum when I see how it is becoming more and more a tomb of incalculable dimensions”, Mogavero lamented, using the ancient Roman name for the sea habitually deployed in modern times to evoke the diversity of Mediterranean cultures and to appeal for solidarity and cooperation between them.

In a Mediterranean that has witnessed yet another mass migrant and refugee drowning “we are facing a genocide that is happening before our eyes, as we take our vacation in August, and we are totally disinterested”, Mogavero deplored.

“Even the most terrible shipwreck of the year 2020 is no longer news; we read the title absent-mindedly, without any recrimination, without any protest, without any form of rebellion and moral resistance to the havoc of which we all, more or less, become accomplices when we remain silent”, the bishop decried.

– “No political will from governments” to prevent migrant and refugee drownings

After the shipwreck off the Libyan coast August 17, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, warned “there is an urgent need to strengthen the current search and rescue capacity to respond to distress calls” in the Mediterranean and denounced the “continued absence of any dedicated, EU-led search and rescue programme”.

But Bishop Mogavero lamented that those kinds of calls from the IOM and UNHCR to step up rescue efforts are bound to have no effect because “there is no political will from governments” to offer solutions to the migrant and refugee tragedies.

“These international organisations only have the power to speak out, to denounce, but they have no effective means of forcing governments to act in accordance with the requirements of natural law, international law, the law of the people and human duty”, the bishop deplored.

According to IOM and UNHCR figures, at least 302 migrants and refugees have perished in the Mediterranean this year to date.

More on Novena on the Church’s pain over migrant and refugee drownings in the Mediterranean:

“One does not let any single human drown, end of discussion”: German Church refugee rescue ship sets sail in Mediterranean

Scalabrinian sisters head to Lesbos to offer “a future and hope” to refugees

“Urgent action is needed now”: Caritas pushes EU to honour commitment to resettle 30,000 refugees in 2020

EU Bishops cry: “The pandemic is no excuse to let human beings drown in the Mediterranean”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.