Aurora’s Liberian community worries about Ebola backlash here and impact in Africa

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AURORA | Regardless of whether an Ebola infection ever makes its way to  Aurora, the burgeoning Liberian community here are already feeling the impact of the disease and worry what might happen next.

“The perception now is everybody coming from Liberia has the virus,” said Naquetta Ricks, who moved to the US from Monrovia, Liberia, as a child. Some in the community are worried about Liberians and other Africans being mistreated as potential fear from the disease spreads.

In the past several months, the ebola virus has ripped through west Africa, killing more than 4,400 people and leaving thousands more infected. The outbreak has been particularly bad in Liberia, where 2,458 have died from the disease.

In Aurora, which is a hub of Colorado’s Liberian community, the outbreak has local Liberian immigrants worried about their relatives back home, but they worry that even without a local infection there could be  a backlash for Africans living here in Aurora.

Ricks, who is running for the University of Colorado Board of Regents in next month’s election, said some Liberian immigrants have be posting “I’m not a virus, I’m a Liberian” on social media.

Thomas Eric Duncan, the lone person to die in the United States from the disease, contracted the disease in Liberia and federal officials believe he infected at least two nurses who treated him in Dallas.

Ricks said talk of a ban on travel from Liberia — a move infectious disease experts say wouldn’t help the situation, but is gaining support with members of congress — also has her worried.

“Economically that would impact the country even more,” she said. “The country has suffered, the people are suffering.”

Already, Ricks said some local Liberian business owners have lost customers who were fearful of the disease.

Daniel Moore, president of the United Liberian Organization of Colorado, said a travel ban would be a major burden for local immigrants, as well as people in Liberia who have already received visas to come to the U.S.

“There are a lot of Liberians who are very concerned about that thought,” he said.

While Moore said he hasn’t seen any discrimination against the local Liberian population, he worries about it as the outbreak grows worse.

Aurora has long been a popular destination for African immigrants who move to Colorado. There were 8,000 African-born immigrants in Aurora in 2010, according to the Census, up from 2,000 a decade prior. The group is the city’s fastest-growing immigrant population as well. Local officials estimate that about half of those people live in or very near Aurora.

Statewide, the Census said there were 223 people in Colorado with Liberian ancestry, but Ricks said she estimates the community to be about 2,500, with the bulk of them living in and around Aurora.