Updated 4.40pm with NGOs' reaction

Guardian for Future Generations Maurice Mizzi has hit out at irregular immigration into Malta, arguing that Muslims are “taking over” and insisting the country should stop migrants from entering.

His comments drew an angry reaction from NGOs, who said he should be dismissed.

In an interview with The Sunday Times of Malta to discuss his office’s work promoting sustainable development in government policymaking, Mr Mizzi turned to migration while talking about how working Maltese were failing to keep up with the cost of life – he argued that wages remained low because migrants were happy to work for the minimum wage.

“We should stop these people coming from abroad without a passport, with their children and with a different religion,” he went on to say. “We are living in a Catholic country, and when I die, I want to die in a Catholic country. At the moment, there are so many Muslims coming – they’re all having nine babies, next to our two – and they will take over eventually.”

We should stop these people coming from abroad without a passport, with their children and with a different religion

Mr Mizzi, who has headed the government-appointed Guardian commission since it was reconstituted in 2017, returned to the issue unprompted later in the interview, repeating his view that Muslims were taking over by a demographic shift, raising fears of fundamentalist ‘Sharia law’ punishments, and insisting children born to migrants should not be given Maltese citizenship.

He quickly dismissed the suggestion of better integration programmes, retorting: “Muslims don’t change.”

His comments come just days after two men were charged with the murder of Ivorian migrant Lassana Cisse in what is alleged to have been a random, race-motivated attack, and as politicians and public figures warn of the dangers of xenophobic discourse in sowing the seeds of hatred.

When this was put to him, Mr Mizzi said he “utterly condemned” the murder and that the country had a duty to care for migrants that were already here, while insisting Malta “does not need any more”.

“I want to have Malta for the Maltese,” he said. “Maybe that’s an antiquated view, but I want to see it Catholic and for the Maltese. I don’t mind having others, as long as they don’t take over. And the problem is they have so many children.”

The position of the Guardian commission he heads, he said, was for the EU to support development in migrant origin countries as a means of reducing migration to Europe.

‘Regular growth better than plenty followed by famine’

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Mizzi highlighted what he said was a growing problem of poverty even as the economy continued to surge. He questioned the sustainability of the current levels of growth.

Despite all but 2,000 people now being in employment, he said, some 14,000 lived in a state of material deprivation, meaning employment was not guaranteeing a decent standard of living.

“The government has to work out how the surplus is going to filter down. We’ve never had people sleeping outside before; why should it be happening now that we have a surplus?”

He praised recent social housing initiatives but said the large numbers of people moving to Malta for work had led to a dramatic increase in rent prices, while acknowledging the government’s assertion that foreign workers are now essential to economic growth.

“The government has a choice: either they push on or they accept that the economy will slow down,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be better to have 10 or 20 years of regular growth than to have – as the Bible says – seven years of plenty and then seven years of famine?”

Mr Mizzi also stressed the pressures development was piling on the country’s natural and built environment.

He praised the government’s new greening initiatives – including plans for a large new public park in Ta’ Qali – but said more needed to be done to prevent the eating-up of outside development zone (ODZ) areas.

He also called for a holistic building plan to guide development and raised the possibility of ‘building templates’ to ensure uniformity in urban streetscapes. “We cannot allow young architects to ruin our streets with their flair,” he said.

What is the Guardian for Future Generations?

The Guardian for Future Generations is a government-appointed commission intended to promote sustainable development in policymaking.

As described by Mr Mizzi, who heads the four-man board, its goal is “to ensure that while the needs of the present generation are being met, these do not compromise the needs of future generations”.

It is tasked with promoting sustainable development in the public and private sectors, developing networks of scientific understanding and providing goals and direction to government bodies.

NGOs: commissioner should be dismissed

In a reaction to Mr Mizzi's comments, a group of NGOs and activists said the comments were racist and Mr Mizzi should be dismissed.

They pointed out that Mr. Mizzi’s role is to “endeavour to facilitate closer collaboration between all stakeholders in the pursuit of the right balance between socio-economic development and environmental stewardship in the
Maltese Islands”.

"Finding a balance between socio-economic development and environmental
stewardship is achievable by fostering inclusion, and certainly not by condemning difference, or singling out any particular religious belief. Mr Mizzi seems to forget the responsibility that comes with his role and the essential point that the most important factor to achieve development and guarantee future generations is peace," the NGOs said. 

It foments hate, something we can ill afford to increase in our small country because it only leads to violence, death and destruction, as very recent incidents in Malta have shown

"Peace relies wholly on acceptance and inclusion; this means that people are entitled to have their own religious beliefs, or no religious beliefs at all. Singling out one religious belief as impeding development is untrue. It foments hate, something we can ill afford to increase in our small country because it only leads to violence, death and destruction, as very recent incidents in Malta have shown."

The NGOs pointed out that migrants are generally fleeing from war, socio-political persecution and economic hardship, often induced by interests beyond their countries’ borders.

"Mr Mizzi’s declaration contradicts the Prime Minister’s statement about the
need for more workers, irrespective of religion, origin or colour." 

The NGOs said it is also Mr Mizzi's role to ensure that no person’s work is exploited in the name of socio-economic development, and protecting our environment from over-exploitation is part of his job.

"In the light of such racist declarations, we demand his immediate resignation or
removal by the Prime Minister as his position is no longer tenable," the NGOs said.

The statement was signed by aditus foundation, African Media Association, Allied Rainbow Communities, Cross Culture International Foundation, Department of Gender Studies (University of Malta), Eritrean Refugees community Association in Malta, Fondazzjoni Sebħ, Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants, Integra Foundation, International Association for Refugees, JRS Malta, KOPIN, Malta Emigrants Commission, Moviment Graffitti, People for Change Foundation, Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta, Repubblika, Richmond Foundation, Solidarity with Migrants Group, SOS Malta, Spark 15, Sudanese Migrants Association, The Critical Institute, Troupe, Dr Elena Tanti Burlo, Dr. Colin Calleja, Louise Chircop, Professor Peter Mayo, Professor Duncan Paul Mercieca, Dr. Josephine Milton and  Jacqueline Zammit.

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