NEW YORK (AFP) - Members of the west African community in New York complained on Wednesday that their children were being bullied at school and businesses were losing money because of hysteria over Ebola.
Panic has gripped many Americans since a Liberian citizen brought the killer virus into the country and died on Oct 8 of the disease in a Texas hospital. Two nurses who treated him subsequently became infected, though recovered, and a US doctor who returned to New York from treating Ebola patients in Guinea was diagnosed with the virus last week. Various US states and the Pentagon have imposed quarantine rules for people returning from Ebola-afflicted countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The African Advisory Council (AAC), a community group in New York, called a news conference in the Bronx, home to one of the largest African communities in the United States, to demand better education to end unnecessary fear. "I need my community to be safe but also to be protected," said congressman for the Bronx, Mr Jose Serrano.
Last week, two Senegalese boys were called "Ebola" and assaulted at a school in the Bronx so badly they had to go to hospital, community leaders said. The boys had three weeks previously moved to New York to join their father, a cab driver who has lived in the United States for nearly 20 years.
Their father Ousman Drame blamed the assault on "kids who know nothing", and said the incident stemmed from ignorance.
Mr Serrano called the bullying of the Senegalese boys "unacceptable".
United States President Barack Obama and officials in New York have repeatedly sought to sow calm, hailing medical workers battling Ebola as heroic and stressing that Ebola cannot be contracted through casual contact.
But community members say pervasive ignorance and scare mongering in sections of the media are putting their children at risk and jeopardising their livelihoods.
Mr Moussa Kourouma, a taxi driver originally from Guinea, said children from the community face a "serious problem". Bullying and parents out at work made it easy for them to drop out of school and drift onto the streets, he said.
As president of a Guinea community association, he said the family of a five-year-old boy, who tested negative for Ebola in New York on Monday, are too frightened to return to their home in the Bronx.
"They cannot come back to where they were living because the neighborhood over there doesn't want to receive them," he said.
He said immigrants from the three afflicted countries were scared to go to hospital with simple health complaints or admit their origin to customers.
Mr Kourouma said one customer demanded to get out of his cab when he discovered he was from Guinea.
"If you say you're from Guinea or Sierra Leone or Liberia, nobody's got time for you," he told the news conference.
"We have a serious problem, and we cannot hide it," he added.
Ms Stephanie Arthur, chair of the civil engagement committee of the AAC, told AFP that she had no precise number of incidents but said Ebola was exacerbating harassment many children already face because of their African origin.
"We must all stand up as Africans, we must all stand up as New Yorkers, we must all stand up as Americans," said Mr Charles Cooper, Bronx president of the AAC.
Neither was it just in New York. Children had also been harassed and called "Ebola" in Texas, she said.
"This greatly impacts our quality of life as Africans," she told reporters.
"I want to challenge the media, I want to challenge health professionals to accurately report how this virus is transmitted. This fear mongering hurts this community," she added.
According to the Immigration Policy Centre, the African foreign-born population in the United States doubled in size between 2000 and 2010.
Nearly half of African immigrants are naturalised US citizens, and the largest African communities are in California, New York, Texas, Maryland and Virginia.