Ebola in US: West African immigrants given protected status because their home countries are now 'too dangerous to deport them to'

Officials say people from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone will be given special permits for 18 months

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The US is to grant special protected status to people from the Ebola-affected region of west Africa on the grounds that it is now too dangerous to send them back to their home countries.

People from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone who are currently living in the US are to be given temporary protected status, meaning they cannot be deported by the Department of Homeland Security.

They will also be able to apply for 18-month work permits, an official told the Reuters news agency.

Once the 18 months have expired, the Secretary of Homeland Security will reassess the level of the Ebola outbreak to determine whether the protected status should be extended.

It comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the spread of the deadly virus remained “intense” in Sierra Leone, despite it slowing significantly in Liberia and Guinea.

The current outbreak, first identified by the WHO in March, is the worst ever recorded, having claimed more than 5,400 lives.

In the US, the virus has received widespread coverage after it was contracted by two healthcare workers in Dallas, Texas.

An official with the Department of Homeland Security told Reuters: “The Ebola response in the United States has been front and center in the United States government at high levels.

“This designation has been part of that constant monitoring, reevaluation and reassessment of the appropriate response.”

Immigration officials said they estimate that around 8,000 people will be eligible to apply for protected status, while anyone who arrives in the US after today will be ineligible to do so as a measure to prevent mass migration.

Temporary protected status has typically been granted in the US to people from countries experiencing only the worst disasters, such as Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

Those who do apply for the status will be barred from visiting their homes in west Africa for the duration of the 18 months – not normally a requirement under the rules.

It comes after US officials received criticism for overreacting to the threat Ebola poses on American soil – and of using the outbreak for political gain.