Ebola Stigma Deprives Liberian Student in Canada

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There are clear signs that the fight against the Ebola virus disease (EVD) is being won in Liberia. The fight, however, does not end there.  Despite all the gains here on the ground, Liberians in other parts of the world are being stigmatized, hampering even their educational pursuits.

Indeed, the other battle after the initial success of the containment of the deadly virus has to do with discrimination and stigmatization against citizens of the three worst affected countries, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The world, therefore, needs to gear up to begin this other battle.

Citizens from these three countries, especially those who were resident before the outbreak of the scourge, have been ostracized and discriminated against with travel bans, rejections at universities and intimidation in public places. Several have also been detained at foreign airports and left unfed for days.

The latest victim is a Liberian journalist and radio talk show host, Gboko Stewart, who has been denied a visa by the Canadian authorities to attend a Canadian University because he is from Liberia, a Canada Global News has reported.

Gboko Stewart was recently admitted to Quest University in Canada, but is unable to attend classes because of visa restrictions placed on Liberian citizens due to the recent Ebola outbreak in Liberia, the newspaper quoted credible sources as saying.

“A journalist and radio talk show host from Liberia says he can’t attend a university in British Columbia, because of his nationality,” the Canadian media outlet said.

Canada recently became the second, following in the footsteps of Australia, to issue a freeze on visas from the three Ebola hardest hit West African nations. This new policy was announced on October 31 last year.

However, several global health organizations have condemned the policy indicating that it violates international health regulations, though officials continue to defend the government’s visa decision, saying the move to close borders to people from Ebola-affected countries is justifiable.

“We are a sovereign nation with a duty to protect our citizens,” one official is quoted by the news outlet as saying.

The Canadian government’s decision to deny young Stewart the opportunity to attend Quest has compelled him to start an online petition campaign, entitled: “Prime Minister Harper: Don’t let my nationality prevent me from attending a Canadian University.” The campaign has reportedly gathered 591 signatures.

The young Liberian student said he wanted to ensure that this opportunity is not missed and discrimination brought against people, because of something they are not responsible for, is brought to an end. “I am a Liberian, not a virus,” he says.

Gboko’s Appeal

“The Canadian government’s ban has dealt me a powerful blow.” He is therefore calling on the federal government to change its policy.

Meanwhile, the Canadian authoritative institution, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, has refused to comment on this specific case, but denies that there is a travel ban in place.

“Canada has temporarily paused visa processing in the affected areas. However, should essential travel be required, including travel for economic reasons, discretion remains to approve it; our government will not apologize for taking the necessary steps to protect the health and safety of Canadians,” wrote Kevin Menard, Press Secretary of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, in a statement.

Stewart says he’s never had Ebola, and can’t see how receiving his post-secondary education in Canada poses a risk to Canadians.

“In closing the border it still doesn’t help it,” he says. “As a matter of fact, according to research, only 1.5 per cent of people from this country actually go to Canada in any given year, so the fear is unjustifiable.”

Quest University has left a spot open for him, and school officials say they’re eagerly awaiting Gboko to join them.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has asked Canada to justify its decision to limit travel to that country from the West African countries combating Ebola.

WHO says Canada’s move contravenes the International Health Regulations (IHR) which stipulate that in infectious disease outbreaks, countries should not impose trade or travel sanctions against affected countries beyond what the WHO has recommended.

Under that treaty, countries which take measures that are stronger than those approved by the WHO must present the global health agency with the scientific and public health rationale for their actions.

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