On Thursday, Trump questioned why the US would want to have immigrants from Haiti and African nations, suggesting instead more immigrants should come from Norway, whose prime minister he had met on Wednesday.
According to a report in the Washington Post, Trump said: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” after he had been presented with a proposal to restore protections for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti and certain African nations as part of a bipartisan immigration deal. In a statement, the White House did not deny the account, instead highlighting Trump’s hardline immigration stance.
The UN human rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, told a Geneva news briefing: “There is no other word one can use but racist. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”
On Friday morning, Trump tweeted that the language he had used in the meeting had been tough, but said the reported words were not precisely the ones he had used.
Robin Diallo, the US chargé d’affaires to Haiti, has been summoned to meet the Haitian president, Jovenel Moïse, to discuss Trump’s remarks. The former Haitian president Laurent Lamothe expressed his dismay, saying Trump had shown“ a lack of respect and ignorance”.
El Salvador’s foreign minister, Hugo Martinez, tweeted about Salvadoran contributions to the US. “A good part of those who helped rebuild New Orleans after Katrina were Salvadoran. I feel proud to be Salvadoran,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, US diplomats and the US embassy in San Salvador sought to assure those in El Salvador of their respect for the country.
Jean Manes, the US envoy to El Salvador, tweeted in Spanish: “I have had the privilege to travel around this beautiful country and meet thousands of Salvadorans. It is an honour to live and work here. We remain 100% committed.”
Across Africa there was diplomatic fury. Botswana’s government called Trump’s comment “reprehensible and racist” and said the US ambassador had been summoned to clarify whether the nation was regarded as a “shithole” country after years of cordial relations.
The African Union said it was “alarmed” by Trump’s language. “Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behaviour and practice,” AU spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo told the Associated Press.
“This is particularly surprising as the United States of America remains a global example of how migration gave birth to a nation built on strong values of diversity and opportunity.”
Jessie Duarte, the deputy secretary general of South Africa’s ruling ANC, said: “Ours is not a shithole country; neither is Haiti or any other country in distress. It’s not as if the United States doesn’t have problems. There is unemployment in the US, there are people who don’t have healthcare services.”
Mexico’s former president, Vicente Fox, who has been an outspoken critic of Trump, said in a colourful tweet that “America’s greatness was built on diversity”. He added Trump’s mouth was “the foulest shithole in the world. With what authority do you announce who is welcome in America and who is not? America’s greatness is based on diversity, or have you forgotten your migration background, Donald?”
In the US, Cedric Richmond, a Democratic congressman and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Trump’s comments were “yet another confirmation of his racially insensitive and ignorant views” that reinforce “the concerns that we hear every day, that the president’s slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ is really code for ‘Make America White Again’.”
Mia Love, a Utah Republican whose family came from Haiti, condemned Trump’s remark as “unkind, divisive, elitist” and demanded an apology for the American people and the nations he “wantonly maligned”.
James Comey, who was fired as director of the FBI by Trump, quoted the inscription on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!' This country’s greatness and true genius lies in its diversity."
David Miliband, the president of the International Rescue Committee, said Trump’s comments were leading a “race to the bottom on refugees”.
Trump has made few references to Africa since his election, and many senior Africa-focused posts in his administration remain unfilled.
In September, he appeared to invent a new country called Nambia while addressing African leaders in Washington. Trump also told them: “I have so many friends going to your countries, trying to get rich. It has a tremendous business potential.”
Boniface Mwangi, a well-known social activist in Kenya tweeted that Africa “isn’t a shithole”.
“It’s the most beautiful continent in the world. Beautiful, hardworking people. We have diamonds, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, petroleum, cocoa, coffee, tea etc. Sadly we have #shithole leaders like Trump shitting on us everyday,” Mwangi said.
Standing at a coffee stall outside an office block in Rosebank , a commercial and business neighbourhood in central Johannesburg, Blessing Dlamini, a 45-year-old administrative assistant, said Trump’s words came as “no surprise”.
“He has shown the world he is a racist. We should just block him from our thoughts,” Dlamini said.