The more than 8,000 Liberians in New York City – the largest concentration outside Liberia itself – struggle from afar as the Ebola virus ravages their homeland.
Most Liberian immigrants to America live in the community known as Clifton, in the New York City borough of Staten Island.
Among the immigrants, the No. 1 topic of discussion is the Ebola virus, said the Reverend Philip Saywrayne.
“There has been discussions as to what engineered this Ebola. Others said that the Ebola was introduced by an animal from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The inhabitants of that land used the animal for food and there the Ebola virus derived from,” said Saywrayne, with the Christ Assembly Lutheran Church.
Local health officials said no one in this community has been infected with the virus.
However, the local market, which carries foods imported from Western Africa, is suffering.
Sellers at the market are seeing fewer customers, who may be worried about how the food was handled in Africa.
Bobby Digi, a community organizer with the Island Voice organization, also worries about a backlash against the Liberian-American community.
“They are very concerned that now because you’ve had the gentleman Duncan who has now passed, who is now deceased that the nation does not look at Liberians as all 'wow, we have to look out for Liberians.' It’s already happening, subliminally already,” Digi said.
The Reverend James Bestman, who directs the community's Liberian Cultural Association, said he talks to people in Liberia daily.
“They are dying. They want to get out of there. They want to leave Liberia,” Bestman said.
“It’s not safe for them at all. It’s critical, everywhere it’s critical. The young people, the babies … some people have whole families wiped out. In some areas the next door neighbor has lost their whole family and the other people want to move,” he said. “And, if they move, they have to go to another place which not even safe. So, it’s very tough for Liberia."
At a news conference in New York’s City Hall, Mayor Bill de Blasio called the virus a “painful crisis” for the world.
“This is a painful time. It is also a time that the whole international community is recognizing that this is all of our problem,” de Blasio said. “This is something that has to be addressed by action, by countries all over the world to help address the problem at its core in West Africa.”
De Blasio said last week that the city has taken precautions. Authorities with various agencies, such as the Health Department, the Office of Emergency Management and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have discussed measures for any possible contingency.