Updated at 8.40pm with PN statement

A group of NGOs has slammed comments about foreign workers made by Adrian Delia on Sunday as “abhorrent”, saying they were intended to generate hatred, discrimination and violence.

The 21 human rights NGOs were reacting to the Opposition leader’s criticism of the government’s plans to attract more foreign workers as a means to sustain economic growth.

Dr Delia sounded a warning that the country was being flooded with third country nationals while certain localities, particularly Marsa and ─Žamrun, faced problems with migrants sleeping on the street and in public parks.

The NGOs expressed shock and disgust by his comments against non-Maltese nationals.

“Using inflammatory language and calling for affirmation of the Maltese identity, Dr Delia accused non-Maltese nationals of instilling feelings of fear and insecurity, and of ‘causing havoc with our Maltese identity.

“This language is abhorrent as it is intended to generate hatred, discrimination, exclusion and violence, and has no place in Malta. We unequivocally condemn Dr Delia’s statements and urge him and his colleagues to refrain from resorting to such divisive discourse for the sake of political expediency.”

Read: 'We live in a pressure cooker and need to learn to live together'

They said that it was clear that national and global developments hastened the pace of social change. The nation had benefited from a broad opening up of markets, lifestyles and commodities but these developments also brought about uncertainty and growing insecurities.

Not all had benefited from the economic boom and there was growing inequality and abject poverty in Malta.

Social change has bought about a sense of loss and uncertainty for many and, for some, fear of change, the NGOs added.

“Dr Delia’s comments seem to suggest that he is keen on capitalising on such insecurities and populist sentiments.

Nationalist MP Therese Cachia appeared to back criticism of the Opposition leader by a group of NGOs.Nationalist MP Therese Cachia appeared to back criticism of the Opposition leader by a group of NGOs.

“He not only negates the political factors that have contributed to such human misery, but attacks various communities whose only lowest common denominator is that of being non-Maltese.”

Such discourse not only smacked of hypocrisy, but raised serious questions about the party’s commitments to international human rights obligations and to Malta’s very own Constitution, the NGOs noted.

The statement was issued by aditus foundation, Allied Rainbow Communities, The Critical Institute, Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants, Integra Foundation, Isles of the Left, Jesuit Refugee Service Malta, KOPIN, LIBICO, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement (MGRM), Men Against Violence, Migrant Women Association, Moviment Graffitti, Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta, Richmond Foundation, SOS Malta, SPARK15, St. Jeanne Antide Foundation (SJAF), We Are and the Women’s Rights Foundation.

PN MP Therese Comodini Cachia appeared to back the NGOs' criticism, sharing their joint statement on Facebook and writing that "political discourse should not focus on nationality or race". 

PN: Delia was reflecting what the people feel

In a reaction, the Nationalist Party said Dr Delia had spoken of the government's lack of planning on migration, and his comments reflected what the people were feeling.

"That one discusses the social, economic, environmental and infrastructural impact of unplanned fast-growing migration in the context of scarce land and limited resources is the duty of a serious Opposition which seeks the national interest and the interests of all the people," the PN said.  

It strongly denied that Dr Delia's remarks were inflammatory in any way.

"On the contrary, at no time did Dr Delia express or imply anything which goes against fundamental human rights or dignity.

"He clearly said that all manner of help should be given to those who were in danger at sea. He also hit out and condemned exploitation, as in the case of those migrants who ended up living in inhumane conditions in a farm, or sleeping on benches."

He also spoke positively about those foreigners who had integrated with the Maltese and spoke on the need for serious planning to promote such integration, the PN said. 

At the same time, it was his duty to speak out about the new poverty stemming from fast and unplanned population growth, affecting both foreigners and the Maltese, such as high rents and poor working conditions. This poverty was leading to crime, which was worrying many people.  

The PN said it was a proud champion of the constitution whose values included the Maltese identity. 

Watch the Opposition leader's speech here.

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