‘Stateless’ man trapped in Samoa while U.S. delays immigration response
Mikhail Sebastian has been stranded on the South Pacific island of Samoa for 9 months because of complications surrounding his citizenship status. According to GlobalPost.com, Sebastian is “stateless,” meaning he has no citizenship in any country, and therefore he has been existing in legal limbo since his five-day vacation ended earlier this year, but immigration officials kept him from leaving the island.
Now, months later, billeted with a local family and living on a stipend of $50 a week, but forbidden to work or leave Samoa, Sebastian is desperate to return home. The 39-year-old has legally lived in Houston and Los Angeles through an arrangement with the Department of Homeland Security, but the federal government is now arguing that Sebastian “self-deported” when he crossed over from American Samoa into the independent country of Samoa. When he tried to return to the mainland, customs officials detained him and called U.S. Immigration. The part-time travel agent and barista has been stuck on the 78-square-mile island of Samoa ever since.
“It’s horrible here, it’s hot it’s making me sick, I can’t stand it anymore” Sebastian wrote to GlobalPost via Skype. “I just want to go home.”
Sebastian is an ethnic Armenian who was born in what is today Azerbaijan. When the Soviet Union broke up, he says, Azerbaijan denied him a passport on the basis of his Armenian heritage. Armenian authorities, meanwhile, aren’t convinced that he is truly Armenian and under that country’s laws, refuse to grant him citizenship.
In the U.S., stateless people have the opportunity to become legal residents and possible citizens if their application for asylum is accepted by the federal government. Sebastian’s asylum application was rejected in 1996, the year after he traveled to the U.S. on a business visa using his passport from the U.S.S.R. and decided to try to become an American citizen.
In 2002, an immigration judge ruled to deport Sebastian from the U.S., but since no country would take him, he was imprisoned for 6 months, then released with a work permit and ordered to check in with immigration officials. Since he could not travel outside the U.S., Sebastian decided to visit the most exotic locations he could within U.S. territories, from Guam and Puerto Rico to Hawaii and the South Pacific.
Sebastian was traveling on a World Passport, a document offered by the World Service Authority, described by the group’s president, David Gallup, as a “world government group.”
According to GlobalPost, “A World Passport is a document that’s supposed to confer world citizenship; it can be issued to anyone, other than criminals, terrorists and citizens of certain countries, like Cuba and Iran, Gallup says.”
Customs officials in U.S. Samoa declined to recognize the World Passport as an official document.
Sebastian spends most of his days in a McDonald’s on Samoa, using the free wireless to scour the Internet in search of help. He told GlobalPost that on his lowest days, he has contemplated suicide.
“This whole situation is like a hell for me,” he said.
You can watch a Radio New Zealand video report about Sebastian, embedded below: