Interior Minister Nicos Nouris apologised on Saturday for potentially giving the wrong impression about controversial statements on the health situation in Pournara reception centre but said he had merely been responding to a journalist’s question and was not making a targeted statement about migrants.

On Friday, NGOs accused Nouris of cultivating fear and racism after comments he made the previous day on the number of migrants in Pournara with HIV and TB. On Thursday Nouris had said 1,100 at the migrant reception centre had HIV and 800 tuberculosis.

Later, the interior ministry clarified the statements, saying he had meant “neither 1,100 AIDS cases are currently living at the centre nor 800 TB patients.” The number, reportedly provided by the centre, appear to reflect those recorded over a period of time, about 12 months.

There was a huge backlash against the minister with NGOs saying the HIV numbers he cited were greatly exaggerated.

Responding on Saturday, Nouris said: “I particularly want to refer to the reactions of the organised patient organisations and to assure them that my reference to the health situation at the centre was not made, as they can easily see, voluntarily, but in response to a journalist’s question about the problems we face and the management we carry out,” he said.

He had made the comments during a talk show on public broadcaster Cybc where he was being interviewed by a journalist and was merely answering questions, he said.

Nouris said he has no intention of cultivating fear, racism, and xenophobia, in response to accusations from the NGOs and the main opposition party.

He said that because he sees an attempt to exploit his statements about the health situation at the Pournara reception centre by political circles that have always disagreed with the government’s immigration policy, he wants to repeat that there was and is no intention on his part to cultivate fear, racism, or xenophobia as some systematically want to attribute to him.

“I am expressing disappointment and concern over the organised and systematic promotion of thousands of irregular immigrants to our country,” he said.

Commenting on his statements, he said that as a person from the health sector and an active member in volunteer organisations, he would be the last person to point a finger at people who were ill for whatever reason.

“I apologise if this was the impression they received,” he said.