African Immigrants & Ebola Backlash

African Communities Together joins several other organizations that serve African immigrants in New York in a strong statement condemning discrimination against African immigrants due to the Ebola scare.

In Wake of New York Ebola Diagnosis, Coalition Warns Against Intolerance and Attacks on Immigrants

In the wake of New York’s first Ebola diagnosis, the New York Immigration Coalition is alarmed by reports of harassment and hate crimes directed at members of West African communities, including the bullying and attacks on two recently-arrived Senegalese teenagers in Staten Island on Friday of last week.

In light of these troubling events, the Coalition urges a clear, rational, and evidence-based response from policymakers and the public, and is concerned that Governor Cuomo’s support of a flight ban and implementation of a quarantine policy for health care workers returning from West Africa feeds both misinformation about how the virus is spread and the best means for its control. International public health authorities, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, make clear that Ebola is not spread through the air or by contact with people who are asymptomatic.

The Coalition and its partners responded to the recent wave of hysteria.

“Fear mongering and scapegoating of West African communities is unacceptable and should not be tolerated – not in schools, the workplace, or anywhere else in New York” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “We urge Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to handle this issue with the greatest care, reduce public hysteria and prevent the stigmatization of New York’s West African communities. New York’s communities who have originated from countries currently affected by the Ebola epidemic pose no more risk to their neighbors than any other resident of New York. They deserve to feel safe and free from harassment and blame.”

"New York needs to be targeting Ebola, not targeting West Africans” said Amaha Kassa, executive director of African Communities Together. “We are already seeing harassment and even hate crimes against African immigrants in the communities we serve. This kind of scapegoating will only make things worse, and won't do anything to make us safer. Governor Cuomo should be leading the way for a calm response to Ebola eradication. Instead, he is leading us in the wrong direction."

Opal Tometi, executive director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) said, "The atmosphere that is being created is having an adverse impact on the black immigrant community. Everyday people and youth are picking up on the unwarranted hysteria and using it to perpetrate acts of violence and discrimination against African communities. The reality is that African groups in the U.S. have been leading the charge in support of their families and communities back home. Places like Nigeria have been leaders in this. We must begin to look to African leadership nationally, in New York and abroad to guide our plans for dealing with Ebola."

“Encouraging the FAA to consider a flight ban from countries affected by Ebola is skewed approach to the unfolding international public health crisis we all are committed to combating,” said Bakary Tandia, policy advocate at African Services Committee. “Such measure will carry a real risk of undermining the progress being made to eradicate the epidemic. If applied, the ban will inevitably encourage the discriminatory behaviors that the African immigrant community has been facing because of misinformation on the virus.”

“I am a proud immigrant from Sierra Leone. We are not Ebola!” said Adeyinka M. Akinsulure-Smith, associate professor of Psychology at City College of New York and the CUNY Graduate Center. “Every day I hear another heart breaking story from an African immigrant who has lived in this country for years and is now being targeted and discriminated against. Some of us are even afraid to say where we are from. We call on fellow New Yorkers to focus on healing, not hurting or stigmatizing our community.”

Originally posted on The New York Immigration Coalition website.

The New York Immigration Coalition is an umbrella policy and advocacy organization for nearly 200 groups in New York State that work with immigrants and refugees. The NYIC aims to achieve a fairer and more just society that values the contributions of immigrants and extends opportunity to all by promoting immigrants’ full civic participation, fostering their leadership, and providing a unified voice and a vehicle for collective action for New York’s diverse immigrant communities.