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Liberian immigrants face Ebola stigma in U.S.

While Manhattan is confronting its first Ebola infection, a Liberian community on Staten Island has been following the devastating toll of the epidemic in West Africa. Hari Sreenivasan reports from “Little Liberia,” where he talks to people who have been affected by the outbreak or have confronted stigma.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    While much attention is focused on the Ebola patient in Manhattan, there's a community in Staten Island that's paid unusually close attention to the epidemic in West Africa for months now. It's a neighborhood already feeling the toll in a very personal way.

    Again to Hari Sreenivasan, who spent part of this week in the community.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    While you wouldn't know it just by looking, this stretch of apartment buildings in a neighborhood called Park Hill on Staten Island is the heart of the Liberian community in New York City. In fact, it's commonly known as Little Liberia.

    It's home to one of the largest concentrations of Liberians outside of West Africa. While this community is healthy, the Ebola outbreak happening 4,000 miles away still hits home.

    Fatu Love Kromah, who goes by Love, is a home health worker who emigrated from Liberia in 2011.

  • WOMAN:

    The past months have been terrible for me.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    She's one of the thousands of people in this neighborhood with family ties to Liberia, and she told us that, three weeks ago, her pregnant sister saw a nurse who had previously dealt with Ebola patients.

  • WOMAN:

    But when my sister got in pain, there was like nowhere else to go.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So your sister died?

  • WOMAN:

    Her baby died.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Her baby died?

  • WOMAN:

    Yes. Her 13-year-old son died.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Her 13-year-old son died?

  • WOMAN:

    Yes.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What's it been like in the United States when people hear that you're Liberian?

  • WOMAN:

    Well, I don't blame anybody because, if it was me, I would do the same.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What Love is forgiving is what's happening to Liberians everywhere, according to Oretha Bestman-Yates.

  • ORETHA BESTMAN-YATES, Staten Island Liberian Community Association:

    My gosh, we have been like the target.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Bestman-Yates is the president of the Staten Island Liberian Community Association, or SILCA. She says the treatment of Liberians got worse after the news of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian who died from Ebola in Texas earlier this month.

  • ORETHA BESTMAN-YATES:

    Then the stigma started, that Liberians were walking around with Ebola, because with the three countries that are affected by Ebola, Liberia has become the face of Ebola.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, there's stigma here in New York?

  • ORETHA BESTMAN-YATES:

    In New York.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Because you're Liberian?

  • ORETHA BESTMAN-YATES:

    Because we are Liberians.

    When you get on an elevator, people get out of the elevator, because they don't want to be on the elevator with you because you're from Africa. Just the accent alone.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Once they figure out you're from Africa, they're scared?

  • ORETHA BESTMAN-YATES:

    They're scared.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Bestman-Yates said her 6-year-old son, Jordan (ph), came home from school one day saying that he wanted to only be American, not Liberian-American, because the kids at school teased him of having Ebola.

    Since returning from Liberia in July, after visiting family, Bestman-Yates says she's had trouble going back to her job as a health care worker, even after receiving a clean bill of health from her doctor.

  • ORETHA BESTMAN-YATES:

    My employer is telling me, for administrative reasons, I cannot go to work.

    And what worries us is, we are like the breadwinner right now for our people in Liberia, because they're looking up to us, you know, financially, because the government is shut down, schools are shut down, no — no work.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    In the meantime, Bestman-Yates and SILCA are continuing their weekly food pantry for those in need in their neighborhood, but also raising money to send back to Liberia and help educate.

    Earlier this week, SILCA helped organize a section on the immigration implications of the Ebola outbreak.

  • ORETHA BESTMAN-YATES:

    We are all family in here. If you have any concern about Ebola, the immigration status, please, we have experts here to talk to you on that.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The session was run by Corina Bogaciu, an attorney for a New York nonprofit that focuses on helping African immigrants.

  • CORINA BOGACIU, Attorney, African Services Committee:

    So, there are people who are stranded here, who are afraid to go back, are applying to extend their visitor visa, but in the meantime, they can't work while they're here. So, they can't work to support themselves and they can't work to support family back home who is struggling because of Ebola.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    This afternoon, dozens of protesters organized by African immigrant groups marched from Times Square toward the United Nations, asking for help in the fight against Ebola.

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