Fighting falsehoods: Congolese asylum-seekers in SA do not have ebola virus

Volunteers join city in combating falsehoods about Congolese asylum-seekers

By Courtney Friedman - VJ, Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - Volunteers are now joining the city in debunking false claims that asylum-seekers from Democratic Republic of the Congo in San Antonio have the Ebola virus.

Members of a self-proclaimed far-right wing website that spread the falsehoods even forced their way into a local shelter without permission.

Taylor Rogers and his family have spent days at the city's immigrant resource center, helping central African migrants seeking asylum in the United States.

Going back home is not an option, either because of political or spiritual persecution or because of the famine and the general conditions of war. Sometimes, their home or entire community has been destroyed.

“I talked to one mom who is pregnant and with her 2-year-old walked through the rain forest in Costa Rica for 10 days,” Rogers said.

The Rogers family has passed out water, set up cots and have used their language skills to direct families to the right buses or even just to the shelter’s bathroom.

“The natural reaction is, ‘I don't understand this. I don't even think I can do anything about this,’ and so we just feel afraid. That fear usually results in us having anger towards it and just wanting to cancel it out or retreating and not engaging with it at all. Neither one of these options are OK,” Rogers said.

He has seen that fear in his own community after false articles were posted by online groups claiming the African migrants had Ebola.

“If they're here in our city, it actually means they've been released from a detention center,” Rogers said.

“They have gone through more health screenings in the last six months than probably most of us go through in our lifetime,” said Dr. Colleen Bridger, interim assistant city manager.

“It's absolutely crucial for me to help people understand that if there's something that is prompting fear in you, to really examine that because there's a chance that that's keeping you from something important,” Rogers said. 

He hopes people will research where information comes from and choose compassion over fear.

Since June 4, about 250 migrants from Central Africa have come to San Antonio. Most have already moved onto their final destinations, but the city expects to welcome more people from that region and says it will "treat them with the same compassion" they've given to all 14,000 migrants who have come through San Antonio.

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