A Spanish-African archbishop has issued a powerful plea for migrants, saying that “people have rights, borders do not; the poor have rights, money does not; the oppressed have rights, our well-being does not”.

– “As always, the poor are there and we do not see them”

Santiago Agrelo, the Spanish-born archbishop emeritus of Tanger, was for the 12 years of his ministry as shepherd of that Moroccan archdiocese a constant defender of the rights of the least, migrants and refugees included, until he retired for age-related reasons in May 2019.

Though he is no longer at the head of the Tanger archdiocese, Agrelo has lost none of his prophetic punch, taking to Facebook multiple times over the past week to deplore the deaths of migrants on Spanish land and sea borders.

The first of Agrelo’s powerful messages on the social network came Sunday August 16, when commenting on the news that two migrant stowaways had died in a shipping container on a ship travelling from Algeria to Valencia the Franciscan archbishop wrote that “the poor have always carried on their backs only their lives and a backpack of hope”.

“The poor have always climbed into spaces where only their feet fit, where there is oxygen only for a while, where fatigue is the only option and they fear suffocation”, Agrelo deplored.

“Stowaways in caverns searching for a dream, the poor climb on boats, rafts, floats for beach games, containers intended only for merchandise. As always, the poor take to the field of life to face death. As always, the poor are there and we do not see them”, he denounced.

– “Governments only make sense if they protect the rights of all”

Agrelo returned to decrying the fate of migrants trying to reach Spain in another Facebook post August 20, in which he lamented the deaths of five migrants on a half-sunken raft 80 miles from the Spanish island of Gran Canaria.

Spanish maritime search and rescue authoritiesas well as the Spanish news report Agrelo commented on – originally described the migrant victims as “apparently lifeless bodies”.

“Just in case we need the reminder: governments only make sense if they protect the rights of all”, Agrelo hit out.

“Someone tell me what name should be given to governments that use everyone’s money to push the poor onto the cruelest of death rows: to die of thirst.

“I wonder what we can do to force governments to assume their responsibilities in defending the rights of the poor.

“Weapons are useless. Words remain empty. But let’s keep the music and the dancing going as we kill the future”, the bishop concluded sarcastically.

– “We are the dead: our souls have gone missing”

Further installments of Bishop Agrelo’s series of comments this last week on migrant tragedies on Spanish borders came August 22, when he again took to Facebook to share that he was “overcome with anger” and feeling “helplessness”, a “knot in the stomach” and “choked-back tears” over the death of a migrant who tried to scale the razorwire border fence to the Spanish African enclave of Melilla.

That tragedy affected Agrelo so much that come Sunday August 23 the bishop decided not to post his habitual reflection on the Mass readings of the day.

Instead, he decided to “put on the record my shock” at the fact that the Spanish governmental delegation in Melilla put the migrant death down “to presumed natural causes”.

“I am shocked by this self-serving presumption, which would never have been been expressed if the dead man had been a civil guard or any other person considered by our dehumanised conscience to be one of us”, Agrelo denounced.

“I am shocked that, on top of the cruelty of crucifying [migrants and refugees], we add the cynicism of mocking their deaths, of jeering at their suffering: of stripping them of their bodies after having deprived them of their goods [and] of their rights and having thrown them into the arms of death.

“We are the dead: our souls have gone missing”, the archbishop decried.

Archbishop Agrelo, on the news August 21 that another twenty migrants died on rafts that beached on the shore of Gran Canaria: “I am dying of shame”

More on Novena on the Church’s concern for migrants:

23/8: At Angelus, Francis warns: “The Lord will hold us to account” for dead migrants, “victims of the throwaway culture”

More on Novena on Archbishop Agrelo:

Spanish archbishop Agrelo: “I don’t care about what comes after death. I care about those who in their lives have known nothing but suffering”

Spanish-African bishops insist: “No Christian should have a negative attitude towards immigrants”

Spanish bishop Agrelo blasts Francis critic Cardinal Sarah for living “easy” Christianity


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.