ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — President Trump’s dismissal of Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as “shithole countries” whose inhabitants are not desirable for U.S. immigration shocked people around the world and provoked swift condemnation.
The president made the remarks Thursday during a White House meeting with lawmakers and suggested that immigrants from Norway would be preferable. Trump has since apparently denied making the off-color remark, describing the language he used only as “tough.”
“The African Union Commission is frankly alarmed at statements by the president of the United States when referring to migrants of African countries and others in such contemptuous terms,” said Ebba Kalondo, the spokeswoman for the African Union. “Considering the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the U.S. during the Atlantic slave trade, this flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice.”
She added that the statement was particularly unpleasant coming from the leader of country that is a “global example” of how a strong and diverse country can be the product of migration, and she expressed hope that eventually “the values the U.S. is known for because of its particular experience with migration will come to bear.”
The reaction from the United Nations human rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, was uncharacteristically blunt. He described the remark as “racist.”
“There is no other word one can use but ‘racist,’ ” he said at a briefing in Geneva. “You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes,’ whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”
In Haiti, people took to Twitter to share pictures of their country — verdant green hills, palm trees in the sunset, and sparkling turquoise water.
“Hey #ShitHolePresident!” wrote Harold Isaac. “Here is what my #shithole looks like.”
Haiti’s ambassador to the United States condemned the statement and said his country has asked for an explanation of Trump’s comments from U.S. officials.
“In the spirit of the people of Haiti we feel in the statements, if they were made, the president was either misinformed or miseducated about Haiti and its people, ” the ambassador, Paul G. Altidor, said in a statement.
Altidor said the Haitian Embassy in Washington was inundated with emails from Americans apologizing for Trump’s remark, which he found heartening.
Haiti's largest newspaper condemned it as “racist and disgraceful” and said such comments have “no place in the relations between nations or people, even less so in the mouth of a president of a nation friendly to Haiti.”
In Africa, there were similar reactions celebrating the beauty of the continent's countries. A well-known presenter for South Africa’s broadcaster SABC tweeted: “Good morning from the greatest, most beautiful ‘shithole country’ in the world!!”
The deputy secretary general of the African National Congress, the party once led by Nelson Mandela, hit back at Trump’s comment during a news conference in South Africa.
“Ours is not a shithole country. Neither is Haiti or any other country in distress,” Jessie Duarte said.
Meanwhile, the Daily Maverick, a Johannesburg-based news site, wryly suggested that “Casual Friday at the White House is soon to include hoods and tiki torches at this rate.”
Botswana gave a rare official response to the remarks, summoning the U.S. ambassador there “to clarify whether Botswana is regarded as a ‘shithole’ country” as well, and wondering why “President Trump must use this descriptor and derogatory word when talking about countries with whom the U.S. has had cordial and mutually beneficial bilateral relations for many years.” The statement concluded by calling the remarks racist.
A State Department official said Friday that Senegal had also summoned the U.S. ambassador to that country for an explanation. The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly about the matter, spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Kenyan political cartoonist Victor Ndula, who has criticized Trump’s immigration policies in the past, drew a “‘White’ House map of Africa,” with regions labeled as “west of the shithole,” “southern shithole” and “horn of the shithole” for Kenya’s Star newspaper.
“It’s derogatory and sad to belong to countries that have been labeled ‘shithole’ countries,” lamented Moses Osani, a communications specialist on his lunch break in Nairobi. “Immigrants also contribute to the economy of the U.S. We have relatives who work so hard, some three jobs a day, working and hoping for a breakthrough for their families back home.”
On the other side of the continent, Senegal’s president, Macky Sall, said he was “shocked” by Trump’s comments. Africa and those of African ancestry "deserves the respect and consideration of all,” he wrote on Twitter.
Vicente Fox, a former president of Mexico and a harsh critic of Trump, also noted on Twitter America’s immigrant history. “Your mouth is the foulest shithole in the world,” he wrote, addressing Trump. “With what authority do you proclaim who’s welcome in America and who’s not. America’s greatness is built on diversity, or have you forgotten your immigrant background, Donald?”
In El Salvador, news of the comments quickly shot to the top of media websites. “Donald Trump insults El Salvador,” read one headline.
El Salvador’s foreign minister, Hugo Martinez, said he is seeking an official response from U.S. authorities.
“It’s always been a foreign policy priority of our government to fight for the respect and dignity of our countrymen independent of their immigration status,” he said. “Our countrymen are hard-working people, who are always contributing to the countries where they’re living and, of course, also in our country.”
In light of Trump’s alleged preference for immigrants from Norway, a number of users on social media reshared a semi-satirical Norwegian website launched in 2016 with the purported aim of welcoming Trump-skeptical Americans to the region, as part of a promotional campaign.
One Norwegian official in Brussels deadpanned that the country might consider changing its official tourism slogan from “Powered by Nature” to “Not a Shithole,” before saying that the whole situation was a bit awkward.
Norwegians on social media also questioned the attractiveness of immigrating to a country without free health care, paid parental leave or gun control.“I’m a Norwegian who enjoyed studying & working in the US. The only thing that would attract me to emigrate to the US is your vibrant multicultural society. Don’t take that away,” tweeted Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Reaction across the United States, home to a large population of immigrants from these countries, was emotional.
Illinois state Sen. Kwame Raoul, the son of Haitian immigrants, said there was no “apologizing out of this.”
“He’s demonstrated himself to be unfit, unknowledgeable about the history of this country and the history of contributions that immigrants, particularly Haitian immigrants, have made to this country,” Raoul, a Democrat, told CBS. “It makes me embarrassed to have this guy as the president of my country.”
Republican pollster Frank Luntz quoted a report and said that 43 percent of immigrants from African countries have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 33 percent of the U.S. population overall.
Farah Larrieux, a Haitian immigrant and organizer in Miami, referenced statements Trump made in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood while campaigning before the 2016 election that he wanted “to be the biggest champion” for Haitian Americans.
“This is beyond politics. The guy has no respect for anyone. I am trying not to cry,” she told CBS. “I can't understand how someone goes from making a statement in Little Haiti saying I want to be the biggest champion of Haiti to calling Haiti a 'shithole.' It makes me sick.”
Journalist Amélie Baron ran down a list of stereotypes promoted about the country in recent years, referencing a flap in which a Weather Channel meteorologist claimed that Haitian children were so hungry they ate trees, another statement reportedly made by Trump in 2017 that Haitian immigrants “all have AIDS” and Trump's remark Thursday.
“How bad some US citizens judge Haiti,” she wrote.
Update, Jan. 12: This article was updated to clarify that the promotional Norwegian website cited in the story is semi-satirical.
Maria Sacchetti in Washington, Rick Noack in Berlin, Michael Birnbaum in Brussels, Josh Partlow in Mexico City, Rael Ombuor in Nairobi and Kevin Sieff in Cotonou, Benin, contributed to this report.