Liberian Government Frowns On Stigmatization Of Liberian Citizens

The Liberian Government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has reiterated its concern over the manner in which Liberian citizens are being stigmatized due to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in the country.

A Foreign Ministry Press Statement read by Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan at the daily news briefing of the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism (MICAT) on Wednesday, November 5, 2014 expressed deep concern over a rising trend of measures and reactions on the part of some members of the global community that can only be described as disproportionate and panic-driven.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs asserted that these harsh measures also run counter to the September 18, 2014 UN Security Council Resolution 2177, sponsored by over 130 countries, and the decision of the Extraordinary Meeting of the Executive Council of the African Union (AU) held on September 8, 2014 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. These measures, the Statement notes, are inconsistent with advice from the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and other experts.

The UN Security Council, in its unanimous Resolution 2177 “expressed concern about the detrimental effect of the isolation of the affected countries as a result of trade and travel restrictions imposed on and to the affected countries”, and called on "Member States, including of the region, to lift general travel and border restrictions, imposed as a result of the Ebola outbreak, and that contribute to the further isolation of the affected countries".

Foreign Minister Ngafuan noted that citizens and residents of Ebola affected countries have already been victimized by the deadly virus and that it is unfair and unconscionable for them to be doubly victimized by actions that are not necessarily aimed at attacking the disease but rather attacking the fact that they hold a particular type of passport.

The Foreign Minister referenced the ordeal of a young Liberian lady named A. Boffah Kollie who was rejected entry at the airport of a country (name withheld) in which she had gone to begin graduate studies in Medicine as just one of many heart-rending stories that the Foreign Ministry receives daily.

The Liberian Government, the Statement noted, has protested against these unnecessary restrictions and stigmatization through a variety of channels, including direct diplomatic contacts to the countries involved and advocacy at multilateral fora including the AU and the United Nations.

Minister Ngafuan termed as the height of unfairness and blanket stigmatization attitudes by some countries to treat every Liberian who constitutes a part of the country's 4 million population as if he or she is an Ebola carrier because over 6,000 persons have been infected with the virus in Liberia since March 2014.

The Statement also noted that countries perpetrating these harsh measures do not take in consideration such particularities as whether or not the Liberian passport holder had in fact been in Liberia over the past one month or so or whether or not the passport holder had come in close contact with any infected person.

The Foreign Ministry stressed that the current Ebola Outbreak is not only a problem for Liberia and other worst-hit countries: "It is also a test of human solidarity amidst human adversity".     

The Ministry asserted that the Liberian Government does not contest the right of any Government to protect, first and foremost, the interest and well-being of its own citizens and residents but strongly urges leaders of the world – heads of state and government, parliamentarians, ministers, etc. – to take measures that achieve the double objective of protecting their own citizens and at the same time assisting countries battling with Ebola to quickly contain the disease.

"Blanket visa suspensions and other extremely harsh actions do not necessarily isolate Ebola; they only isolate countries affected by Ebola; and by so doing, they do not only undermine the ability of affected countries to effectively and expeditiously fight the disease but also compound the long-term socio-economic impacts of the Ebola crisis", the Statement said.

The Statement continued, "While we appreciate the numerous assistance from governments and other partners from across the world in our fight against Ebola, it should be noted that no amount of external assistance can be more appreciated by the Liberian people in these trying times than to be treated with respect and dignity."

The Foreign Ministry, as a way of averting and promptly responding to  travels and other complications that may be experienced by Liberians due to stigmatization, disclosed a series of local and international phone numbers, an email address as well as the Ministry's FaceBook address.

The contact channels will afford Liberians facing these stigmatizing circumstances the opportunity to alert the Ministry of the specifics of their case: "While we cannot guarantee that acceptable redress will be found in every case, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs assures the general Liberian public that it will exhaust all available diplomatic options to bring relief to Liberians or group of Liberians facing such embarrassment".

The Foreign Ministry further narrated that in order to forestall such difficulties, it advises officials of government and ordinary Liberian citizens, to the extent they feel comfortable to do so, to apprize the Ministry via email of their travel itineraries at least two days before their date of travel out of Liberia: " This will enable the Ministry to contact the Liberian mission(s) accredited to the country (ies) of travel to take proactive actions and be on the alert to assist whenever travel complications arise."

The Ministry, meanwhile paid tributes to the many countries, whether big or small, that have rendered exemplary assistance and empathy to Liberia since the outset of the Ebola epidemic in the country, adding that those countries deserve tremendous credit for the progress Liberia is beginning to register in its fight against Ebola.

The Statement, among others, particularly hailed the Government and people of Cote d’Ivoire for the resumption of flights by its national carrier, Air Cote d’Ivoire, to Liberia and other Ebola affected countries: "We hope that others will soon follow suit in line with commitments made over a month ago. "

The Ministry then disclosed that in order to improve the safety of travel and enhance confidence internationally, the Government of Liberia with capacity support from partners including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has been implementing robust and strict exit and entry screening procedures at all our air, land and sea ports.

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