Global backlash over Trump’s ‘shithole’ remark

US President Donald J. Trump announcing that the US is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. Washington, 1 June. [Molly Riley/EPA]

African politicians and diplomats labeled US President Donald Trump a racist on Friday (12 January) after he was reported to have described some immigrants from Africa and Haiti as coming from “shithole” countries.

Trump reportedly made the remarks at a White House meeting on immigration on Thursday and a US senator who attended the gathering said on Friday that the president used “vile, vulgar” language, including repeatedly using the word “shithole.”

Trump denied on Friday using such derogatory language, but he was widely condemned in many African countries and in Haiti and El Salvador, and by international rights organisations.

On Sunday Trump said he was “not a racist” and also said he was “ready, willing and able” to reach a deal to protect illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children from being deported but that he did not believe Democrats wanted an agreement.

Asked by a reporter in Florida whether he was a racist, Trump said: “No. I‘m not a racist. I‘m the least racist person you have ever interviewed.”

He tweeted earlier on Sunday that the existing programme, known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program) would “probably” be discontinued.

“Ours is not a shithole country and neither is Haiti or any other country in distress,” Jessie Duarte, the deputy secretary general of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress told reporters at a news conference in East London.

“We would not deign to make comments as derogatory as that about any country that has any kind of socio-economic or other difficulties,” Duarte said, adding that much like their African counterparts, millions of US citizens were affected by problems such as unemployment.

Botswana’s foreign ministry summoned the US ambassador in protest and called the comments “highly irresponsible, reprehensible and racist”.

In a statement it said it had asked the US government, through its ambassador, to “clarify” if the derogatory remark also applied to Botswana given that there were Botswana nationals living in the United States and others who wished to go there.

Senegal’s foreign ministry also called in the US ambassador in Dakar to demonstrate its displeasure, a US State Department official said.

The African Union (AU), an organisation which promotes cooperation on the continent, said it was alarmed by Trump’s “very racist” comments.

“Given the historical reality of how African Americans arrived in the United States as slaves, and the United States being the biggest example of how a nation has been built by migration – for a statement like that to come is particularly upsetting,” AU spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo said.

The AU’s mission in Washington expressed its “infuriation, disappointment and outrage” at the comment and demanded a retraction as well as an apology.

In Haiti, on the eighth anniversary of a devastating earthquake that killed about 220,000 people, the government also summoned the top US diplomat for an explanation, while the Haitian ambassador to Washington called for an apology.

“Haitians don’t deserve such treatment,” said Ambassador Paul Altidor. “Haitians should not be seen as a bunch of immigrants who come to the United States to exploit US resources.”

Special status given to about 59,000 Haitian immigrants, that has protected them from deportation following the 2010 earthquake, will end next year following a Trump administration ruling last month.

El Salvador, also facing an end to protected status for its 200,000 citizens living in the United States, sent a formal letter of protest to the US government over the comments.

El Salvador’s foreign ministry said the US president had “implicitly” accepted the use of “harsh terms detrimental to the dignity of El Salvador and other countries.”

‘Harsh and offensive’

Since taking office a year ago, Trump has pursued controversial policies aimed at curbing immigration into the United States as part of a hard-line “America First” agenda.

Global backlash grows against Trump's immigration order

The global backlash against US President Donald Trump’s immigration curbs gathered strength yesterday (29 January) as several countries including long-standing American allies criticised the measures as discriminatory and divisive.

Trump said on Twitter on Friday he merely used “tough” language when discussing a new immigration bill with a group of US senators.

He said the bill was a step backwards because it would force the United States “to take large numbers of people from high crime countries which are doing badly”.

The Trump administration has spoken little about how it wants to engage with African countries, focusing its foreign policy instead on issues like North Korea and Islamic State.

On the streets of Lusaka, capital of the southern African country of Zambia, Trump’s reported remark reinforced long-held views about the US leader.

“Trump has always been a racist, only a racist can use such foul language,” said Nancy Mulenga, a student at the University of Zambia.

Retired Ethiopian long-distance runner Haile Gebrselasse, who won his first 10,000 Olympic gold medal in the US city of Atlanta in 1996, told Reuters Trump’s comments did not reflect the views of all Americans.

The United Nations human rights office said it had no doubt Trump’s remarks were “racist,” while the Vatican newspaper branded them as “particularly harsh and offensive.”

“You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome,” said U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville.

Proud immigrants answer back

African immigrants in the United States defended their countries on social media, highlighting their education, careers and accomplishments, after Trump questioned why the nation should want people from “shithole countries”.

“Africa is NO shithole, Mr. Trump,” tweeted Bernard Lagat, a US Olympic runner who was born in Kenya.

“I‘m a future doctor. I have three degrees. I speak three languages… I‘m from a shithole country!” wrote Nyadow Chol, a medical student from South Sudan whose tweet went viral.

“(Trump) referred to us as if we don’t have a lot to provide to American society. I wanted my tweet to allow other immigrants the opportunity to speak up,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Some people used the hashtag #IAmFromAShitholeCountry on Facebook and Twitter as an expression of pride.

“My hope is that we would showcase who/what we are…in hopes that we can turn this around,” said Ba Lo, a Nigerian American man who urged people to get the hashtag trending.

“There is this impression that we live in huts and walk around with no shoes,” Lo, who manages a healthcare agency, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

After living in the United States for 15 years, Lo said Trump’s comments made him want to move back to Nigeria. He requested to use a pseudonym because he was afraid of getting death threats.

“It is especially painful to me because I served in the United States navy and this is not the country I signed up to fight and possibly die for,” Lo said.

Olusegun Ishmael, a doctor in Chicago, had another kind of response. He posted links to dozens of notable Nigerians and Nigerian Americans including scientists, musicians and writers.

“Here are two lists of people from huts and ‘shithole places’ like me,” Ishmael wrote on Twitter.

US ambassador resigns

US Ambassador to Panama John Feeley, a career diplomat and former Marine Corps helicopter pilot, has resigned, saying he no longer felt able to serve President Donald Trump.

Feeley’s departure had been communicated to State Department officials on Dec. 27 and was not a response to Trump’s alleged use of the word “shithole” to describe Haiti and African countries at a meeting on Thursday, US officials said.

“As a junior foreign service officer, I signed an oath to serve faithfully the president and his administration in an apolitical fashion, even when I might not agree with certain policies,” Feeley said, according to an excerpt of a resignation letter read to Reuters on Friday.

“My instructors made clear that if I believed I could not do that, I would be honor bound to resign. That time has come.”

The European Parliament S&D Group strongly condemns the latest declarations of the US President Donald Trump, calling African countries, El Salvador and Haiti "shithole countries".

S&D Group President Gianni Pittella MEP said:

"Unfortunately, President Trump has forgotten to engage his brain before talking. It was not enough to compare Mexican people to ‘criminals’ or refer to Muslims to ‘terrorists’, now it is Haiti, El Salvador and African people being targeted by the US President’s delirious and racist words.

“Every passing day, Trump proves not to be fit to run the US and lead the international community. Insulting, bulling, threatening is the only language Trump knows. It is no longer tolerable.

“We express full solidarity with people of Haiti, El Salvador and Africa. The migrants of all these countries who live in the United States contribute to the development of an extraordinary nation that does not deserve to be represented in this way".

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