Stuck in the territory for over a year, stateless man finally returns home
After more than a year stuck in American Samoa, the stateless man, Mikhail Sebastian has finally departed the territory for his destination, Los Angeles where he had resided for four years until he took his fateful trip to the territory.
Sebastian, the 39-year old native of Azerbaijan, a republic of the former USSR, had traveled to the territory in December, 2011 for (just) a four-day holiday and a side trip to Apia. When he tried to return home on his Hawaiian Air flight, he discovered that because he is considered "stateless" he was not allowed back into the United States, and has been stuck here since that time.
A bureaucratic nightmare followed, until just over 30 days ago, when Sebastian received the good news from the California-based non profit group, the Jewish/Turk Family Center that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had given him clearance to return to Los Angeles.
However, Sebastian faced another hurdle when he learned he had to get to Apia, Samoa to obtain his travel documents to enter the United States, because the USCIS does not have an office in Pago Pago, and his documents were sent by the federal government to the U.S. Embassy in Samoa.
The Samoa Government then “refused to provide me permission to enter Apia to get my travel document from US Embassy and I am really disappointed the way Samoa Government handled the request from US State Department,” said Sebastian in an e-mail message to the news media — including Samoa News — after checking in Monday night for the Hawaiian Airlines flight to Honolulu.
He said USCIS then decided to send his travel document via the USCIS field office in Manila, Philippines and he received the document last Friday.
“I am very relief and thankful to God. I just checked in with Hawaiian Airlines, who decided to reissue my old expired ticket to allow me to return,” he said and noted that he was waiting to board the flight. Hawaiian had already given the prior approval to re-issue his old ticket without having to pay any fees.
Sebastian said he is “returning to Los Angeles where I have to start everything from zero since I already lost my apartment and my job. New life and I hope, better future.”
“I want to thank again my host family, Susana and Tupu Tau for all their support and help, my adopted Samoan family,” he said and also thanked Valerie Lawson, former assistant attorney general for everything she did to help him with his case when he went to the Attorney General’s Office on Jan. 3, 2012.
He expressed sincere thanks to McDonald’s restaurant “for your friendly service and help”; and the UN Refugee Agency (or UNHCR) office in Washington D.C. “for everything they have done in their capacity to secure my return back home.”
To current Attorney General Afoa L.S. Lutu, he said, “I thank you for... listening to me and helping me. If you had been attorney general in 2012 I know for sure that my exile in American Samoa would not have lasted so long, I am pretty sure about that,” said Sebastian, who also thanked assistant attorney general Vincent Kruse for his help “in spite of some differences we had.”
In closing, he thanked Samoa News and KHJ News for media coverage of his story, which was also picked up by several off-island news organizations and helped get the word out about his plight.