Copyright ©2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

We're going to stay with news from abroad. And this next one is about being from somewhere that no longer exists and having nowhere to go.

Thirty-nine-year-old Mikhail Sebastian was born in the former Soviet Union. But when the USSR broke up in the early 1990s, the place he lived became the independent state of Azerbaijan. Now, Sebastian is an ethnic Armenian, and so the Azeris refused to grant him citizenship. But when he tried to move to neighboring Armenia, the Armenians wouldn't allow it because he couldn't prove he was Armenian. For starters, he doesn't speak the language, and he knows little about the culture.

So in 1995, Mikhail Sebastian took his Soviet passport, which was irrelevant by then, and he managed to fly to the United States on a temporary business visa. He overstayed that visa and was eventually detained by immigration officials.

MIKHAIL SEBASTIAN: When they released me in February 2003, they told me that we know that you are stateless and there is no country in the world that will be able to take you. So basically, you will be allowed to live in the United States in limbo. We're going to give you permission to work.

RAZ: So Mikhail built a life here. He took some college courses and found a job as a barista in L.A. The condition was simple: If he left the U.S., he wouldn't be allowed back in. Now, the thing is Mikhail Sebastian loves to travel. So he went to Hawaii, Alaska and U.S. territories like Puerto Rico and Guam. No problem, until he decided to take a short trip last December.

SEBASTIAN: And I was thinking about other places within the United States that I never explored before. And it came up to American Samoa. And I was like, OK, this island belongs to the United States, and I will make this trip. And I went to Los Angeles immigration office and I asked them if I will be able to go to American Samoa. And the guy checked my documents and he said that you're OK to go.

RAZ: But it actually wasn't OK. When Mikhail tried to board his flight home to L.A. from American Samoa, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said American Samoa has its own immigration system. And by going there, Mikhail Sebastian had self-deported. That was 10 months ago, and Mikhail is still there. He's forbidden from finding work, and he's desperately trying to figure out a way back.

SEBASTIAN: It's tough. I'm really mentally - I'm getting crazy here. But I'm very thankful to the local government of American Samoa. They accommodated me with the local Samoan family in one of the village here. And they do provide me $50 a week allowance so I can buy something. But also, I'm very thankful to the owner of the house I'm staying.

RAZ: And what do you do all day?

SEBASTIAN: I come to McDonald's every day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. because that's the only place I can use the Wi-Fi and to connect with my friends and to ask for the help to communicate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that are on my side and working with me. But I cannot be outside because I am very temperature-sensitive person, and the climate here, tropical humidity, is just kind of killing me.

RAZ: Do you have any sense when or whether, in fact, you will ever be allowed to return to the U.S.?

SEBASTIAN: Oh, Guy, I hope that the situation will be resolved because I lived 16 years in the United States. And United States is the only home and country I know. And I don't have any other place to go. I really don't. My job, my friends - I studied there. I integrated within American society and assimilated. And I don't have any other consulate or embassy to turn around and look for protection who will be able to advocate on my behalf but the United States.

RAZ: That's Mikhail Sebastian. He's a stateless man. He's been stranded in American Samoa. Mikhail Sebastian, thank you for sharing your story. Good luck. And we hope it gets results soon.

SEBASTIAN: Thank you so much, Guy. Thanks a lot.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: