NPR features Mikhail Sebastian's plight in American Samoa
For many of us, no matter where we go, we'll always have a home. We'll always be from somewhere. But what if that somewhere no longer existed?
That is the strange position in which Mikhail Sebastian finds himself. Officially, he is from nowhere and has nowhere to go. The 39-year-old is stateless and stranded on American Samoa, a U.S. territory in the South Pacific.
Sebastian is an ethnic Armenian born in what is now Azerbaijan, but back then was part of the Soviet Union. When war broke out in the late 1980s, Sebastian says his aunt was stoned to death and he fled.
He tried to take refuge in Armenia, but couldn't stay. "Armenia was overloaded with all the Armenian refugees coming from Azerbaijan," he tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "Basically, they did not recognize you as Armenian if you don't speak Armenian and you don't know your culture."
He wound up in Turkmenistan, but not for long. Male homosexuality is outlawed there, and Sebastian is gay.
He made it to the United States in 1995 on a work visa and applied for political asylum. It was denied, and Sebastian was ordered to leave. With a Soviet passport that was invalid by then, Mikhail says he had nowhere to go. So he stayed and eventually was arrested and jailed for six months.
"When they released me in February 2003, they told me that 'We know you are stateless and there is no country in the world that will be able to take you.'" Sebastian was given a work permit and he built a life here in the U.S. He took courses in business administration and travel management, and found a job that he loved, working as a barista in Los Angeles.
But there was a condition tied to his residency.