Traveling woes of Liberians persist – after Ebola epidemic subsides

DAKAR, Senegal: “This constant stigmatization of the country has implications for our post-war economic recovery and for our post-Ebola economic recovery,” she said. “It’s almost like we’re a pariah.”

“It’s not just affecting people who are in the country — it’s all of us who have Liberian passports,” said Pailey, an academic, activist and author who is based at SOAS, University of London.

The World Health Organization declared Liberia Ebola-free in early May. Still, fear of the deadly disease still reigns in many places, causing students to miss out on scholarships abroad, and keeping relatives from attending weddings and funerals.

Robtel Neajai Pailey has not been able to travel back to Liberia since the Ebola virus overtook the country’s capital in July, fearful that doing so could make it harder for her to travel as countries around the globe clamp down on visitors with West African passports.

So it was a mix of frustration and anger recently when she couldn’t get a visa to attend an important meeting in the United Arab Emirates that had been months in the making.

It didn’t matter that she had not even been in Liberia during the epidemic. Nor did it matter that Liberia was declared Ebola-free more than a month ago.

The virus can only be transmitted through direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone showing Ebola symptoms, but many countries remain suspicious of visitors from West Africa for fear of infection spreading. These fears might be a result of an incident last year – when strict control were implemented – when a Liberian-American man was able to fly to Nigeria while sick, sparking an outbreak there.

Liberia borders Guinea and Sierra Leone, where Ebola cases continue to appear, so some other countries are still screening travelers from Liberia since it is still highly susceptible to make a reappearance.

Ebola returned to Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, this week after being absent for 18 consecutive days, officials there said. A young man sick with the disease in another part of Sierra Leone ran away from a quarantine area and came to Freetown, Patrick Fatoma, a spokesman for the National Ebola Response Center, told The Associated Press.

“We at NERC are extremely disappointed and we are now actively conducting contact tracing and surveillance exercises,” he said Friday, adding that as of two days ago there were 19 Ebola patients in treatment centers across the country.

The United States this week announced it is scaling back its screenings of arriving Liberians, Liberia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said, though Liberians will still have to enter the United States through one of five selected U.S. airports. They also must still leave contact information with authorities on arrival, said David K.B. Akoi with the Liberian ministry.

The number of flight options remains slim for people wanting to fly into or out of Liberia. Only one of the airlines that withdrew its service at the height of the crisis — Kenya Airways — has resumed service since the epidemic was declared over. It joins the two carriers that never left — Royal Air Maroc and Brussels Airlines. Five other carriers have yet to resume service.

While restrictions sre slowly being lifted, the changes are not happening soon enough for some people.

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