African immigrants fear backlash over Ebola-hit Liberian’s US trip
DALLAS – In Dallas and other cities home to large populations of African immigrants, worries are abounding among many that their standing in the United States has been tainted by one Liberian man infected with Ebola being treated in Texas.
“Some people around here see us as bringing the disease and that’s just not right,” said a Liberian who asked to be called Sekou, fearful that he and other West African immigrants are going to face bias in their U.S. home because of the sick man.
Because many Americans have little knowledge of Africa’s geography and the politics of countries on the continent, some African immigrants said they have felt a backlash because of the infection in Dallas from Americans who cannot distinguish Liberia in the west from Libya in the north.
Many immigrants in Texas are also quick to offer to the United States and its people for taking them in, but say handshakes are fewer and curious glances more frequent after the Ebola discovery in Dallas.
The Dallas case, the first diagnosed case of Ebola in the United States, has put authorities and the public on alert over concerns that the worst epidemic of Ebola on record could spread from West Africa, where it began in March.
The World Health Organization on Friday updated its death toll to at least 3,439 out of 7,492 suspected, probable and confirmed cases. The epidemic has hit hardest in impoverished Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Some U.S. politicians have called on President Barack Obama to consider a travel ban from the Ebola-hit countries.
“We have one diagnosed case and now there is a list of people who want to shut the borders to Africa,” said Eric Williams, running as an independent for a U.S. Congress seat from a south Dallas district.
Williams was speaking near the apartment where the Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan of Liberia, was carted off by an ambulance about a week ago in the melting-pot neighborhood of Vickery Meadow, home to about 25,000 people who speak more than 30 languages.
Somali immigrants wearing traditional clothing that includes headscarves for women, have seen fingers pointed their way on the neighborhood streets.
“People are looking at us in a bad way. We didn’t have anything to do with this. Somalia does not have Ebola. It is on the other side of Africa,” said Shadiya Abdi, 27, an immigrant from Somalia.
‘GET YOURSELF QUARANTINED’
There were nearly 2 million people in the United States who came from sub-Saharan Africa, according to U.S. Census data from 2010.
In downtown Dallas, near where tourists gather at the site of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, an Ethiopian parking lot attendant who gave his name only as Ayob said a few people have started to see him as an object of suspicion.
“Some guy told me ‘go get yourself quarantined’,” he said.
At schools in Vickery Park, where five students who came in close contact with Duncan have temporarily stopped attending school, some of the other children of African immigrants have been branded ‘Ebola kids’,” politician Williams said.
At a Dallas specialty food store for African goods, customers said shutting borders is useless, especially in West Africa, where many do not know where the lines are drawn and it is easy to walk from one country to the next.
A few see a silver lining in Ebola landing in the United States, in that it will focus the attention of the world’s richest country on eliminating a disease that has killed thousands in some of the world’s poorest countries.
“The best thing is to mobilize resources to contain the epidemic in West Africa,” said Limerick Willie, a Liberian native who is has lived in Texas for decades and now heads Dallas African Charities.
“If you stop it there, the world will be safe.”
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Tom Brown)