Sunday, 23 December 2012

CNN: Stateless gay Armenian man stuck in American Samoa in real life "The Terminal"

UPDATE 16 February 2013: Good news: stateless gay Armenian will be allowed entry back into US

*Via CNN and Huffington Post

In the movie "The Terminal," actor Tom Hanks plays a man who suddenly finds himself stateless when his country ceases to exist. New York’s JFK Airport becomes his only home.

That movie was loosely based on a true story, but for Mikhail Sebastian being stateless is a dilemma that is all too real. Sebastian is stateless.

He is an ethnic Armenian born in Azerbaijan in what was the Soviet Union. He was forced to flee when the Soviet bloc began to crumble in the 1990s. He tried to take refuge in Armenia but eventually wound up in the newly independent nation of Turkmenistan. But Sebastian is gay and homosexuality is illegal there. So once again, he had to search for a home.

He came to the United States and was allowed to stay as a “stateless person.” There was only one catch: Since he still held the passport from the Soviet Union, a place that no longer existed, he could not travel outside the United States – a tough reality for a man who loves to travel. So Sebastian set out from his home in Los Angeles to too many parts of the United States, including the American territories of Guam and Puerto Rico. Last December, he was allowed to fly to American Samoa – a U.S. territory in the South Pacific – for a brief vacation. But while Sebastian was there, he took a short side trip to Western Samoa, not realizing that it is a separate and independent nation.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement deemed that self-deportation and so for the past year, Sebastian's been trapped in limbo, unable to leave American Samoa and return to the United States.

Sebastian says his only wish this Christmas is to get back home to Los Angeles.
“It’s horrible here, it’s hot, it’s making me sick, I can’t stand it anymore” Sebastian is quoted as having told GlobalPost over Skype. “I just want to go home.”

Among Sebastian's advocates is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) office in the United States. "There’s a big gap in the legal structure of the United States when it comes to stateless people, and Mikhail has fallen right through it,” spokeswoman Charity Tooze told GlobalPost in October.


artmika said...

The story reads like a film script. Pretty horrific situation to be in... I really hope that after CNN and HuffPost reports something will change...

The Blackmer Family said...

Crazy! I wonder why he couldn't settle in Armenia...and why didn't he know about Western Samoa? If it's a separate country, didn't he have to show a passport or go through some kind of checkpoint when leaving the US territory? Wouldn't it have been obvious? Unless he inadvertently crossed an unmarked portion of the border...

artmika said...

This case raises quite a few questions, indeed, like the ones you mentioned.

According to Global Post: "But Sebastian adds that he has been unable to convince Armenian authorities to grant him a passport either. The explanation, he says, is that Armenia isn't convinced of his ethnicity and won't grant him citizenship under its laws."

This needs to be verified, of course.

artmika said...

More updates on the case. Well, no progress yet, but lawyer is working on the case, and UNHCR seem actively involved. Also, new brief video interview with Sebastian:

In Limbo: Stateless Man Stuck On American Samoa (NPR)

artmika said...

Good news: stateless gay Armenian will be allowed entry back into US