Updated | Nationalist MP apologises for comparing Marsa migrant centre to the ‘Planet of the Apes’

Unless Claudio Grech meant the Marsa open centre is an advanced society of intelligent simians, the Nationalist MP let slip a toxic way of describing the area 

In complaining about the inhumane conditions for asylum seekers inside the Marsa open centre, MP Claudio Grech likened it to the 'Planet of the Apes'
In complaining about the inhumane conditions for asylum seekers inside the Marsa open centre, MP Claudio Grech likened it to the 'Planet of the Apes'
Freudian slip or just unlucky? MP says migrant open centre looks like 'Planet of the Apes'

One of the Nationalist Party’s brightest MPs has been caught up in an unfortunate, toxic Freudian slip during an interview in which he complained about the government’s lack of integration policy for down-and-out immigrants in Marsa and Hamrun.

Claudio Grech, who shadows family and social policy, and the rights of children “and the unborn”, was speaking on Budget 2019 on Net TV’s 10Q when, in what sounded like a plea for compassion and intervention over idle migrants, he referred to the sight of African migrants at the Marsa open centre like somewhere from “the planet of the apes”.

He issued a public apology a few hours after the story was published in MaltaToday.

“I unreservedly apologise for the unfortunate use of words which might have led to misinterpretation and, in the process, possibly offended poeple, in view of its being taken out of context, given that on air it could have been contextualised fully.

Human rights organisation Aditus also called for an apology in a reaction to the report.

Grech yesterday said the Opposition wanted to know how Malta could plan and create an environment for the integration of immigrants, in a rejoinder to Opposition leader Adrian Delia’s call for “intelligent immigration” to rein in the effects of highly-skilled migrants on property prices and other non-integrated migrants moving into low-rent housing areas.

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“Immigration can get a lot of social problems,” Grech said, turning to Marsa and Hamrun, the two towns closest to the Marsa open centre and which are hosting a growing community of asylum seekers from African countries and entrepreneurial migrants.

“It’s not because of the colour of the skin. The problem is that you have a large amount of people doing nothing the whole day, who after leaving their country’s hell are now living an idle life or sleeping rough at night or in places not even fit for an animal... you can understand why they turn to drink or become anti-social. 

“To have a government that does not recognise this in the Budget, nor allocate any finance... You go to the Marsa open centre... you’d think you’re on the Planet of the Apes!” Grech said, in what was an unfortunate reference to the down-and-out area usually populated by migrants waiting for pick-up jobs on the Marsa thoroughfare.

Indeed, the shambolic reference is incorrect. The “Planet of the Apes” featured in the 1968 movie is an advanced future society whose ape inhabitants have developed human-like intelligence and speech, and are in fact the dominant species while humans are mute creatures wearing animal skins.

And while the simian comparison seems to have been blurted out with no self-awareness at all, it remains part of a long line of racist slanders, most recently resurrected by comedienne Roseanne Barr when she referred to Valerie Jarrett, an African-American woman who served as an adviser to President Barack Obama, as the offspring of an ape. The depiction was used to justify slavery in America, and in Europe has been used as a dehumanising taunt on football grounds against black players.

In his apology, Grech said that “it was a known fact acknowledged by many” that the poor living conditions in the movie Planet Of The Apes were “by far better than those in which both residents and migrants in Marsa and Hamrun are today living in. My point here is simple and straightforward. We cannot keep ignoring the plight of the people in these areas.”

Yesterday Grech made a similar argument: “You cannot treat these people this way,” referring to the downgraded state of the Marsa open centre. “If government does not take responsibility for their proper integration, they will be a social burden.”

Grech also warned on his TV interview that elderly people in Hamrun were scared to walk the streets at night “because of this situation”, referring to migrants who were now residing in Hamrun property. “It is a problem. You don’t build a Budget vision by doling out the tax money... you have vision by recognising your own weaknesses and pave a roadmap to solve these problems.” 

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