By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Russian refugee says long wait for asylum decision causing mental stress
The long drawn-out wait for the approval of their asylum requests has been taking its toll on the physical and mental health of Russian refugees on Guam, according to one of the asylum seekers.
“In the current circumstances of hopelessness, one of the Russian asylum seekers has already committed suicide. Others are also developing depression,” said Fedor Simanov, who is holding out in Adelup, where his fellow “refugees” staged a protest on March 1.
Simanov said some Russians have been unable to adapt to the island’s climate, causing them to get sick. However, he said, they are unable to seek off-island treatments as they are not allowed to leave Guam pending decision on their asylum requests.
“In this situation, we are forced to defend our rights by holding rallies. We have to admit that the ongoing series of rallies haven't actually led to any resolution, so we are ready to go on the hunger strike in order to stop the violation of our rights,” Simanov said. “We ask everyone to support our appeals and help to bring our lives out of the darkness of hopelessness.”
A source with a federal agency said asylum seekers on Guam are not allowed to board the plane while waiting for approval of their refugee status, which is being processed in California.
“It's because Guam has its own Customs office that is outside of the U.S. Customs. If you are coming from Guam and going to Hawaii or anywhere in the mainland, you will need a passport,” said the federal source who requested anonymity. “If they were in Hawaii or in New York, yes, they would be free to move around while waiting for their status change.”
An undetermined number of Russian asylum seekers came to Guam and Saipan two years ago.
“My understanding is that they came when tourism was open,” the federal source said.
Russian nationals were allowed to fly visa-free to Guam and the CNMI under the discretionary parole program launched in 2009.
However, the Department of Homeland Security revoked the program on Oct. 3, 2019, noting that the parole authority for Russians had been “exercised far too expansively than originally intended.” The department found that parole authority accounted for about 99 percent of all Russian visitors in the CNMI in 2012 and 85 percent in 2017.
The federal source also explained that if the asylum seekers came to Guam under the revoked visa waiver program, they would not be able to enter the mainland until they obtained their refugee status.
“That visa waiver was only for Guam and the CNMI,” the source said. “It’s hard when you’re in Guam because the people who will do the interview are coming from the mainland and due to Covid pandemic, their travels are getting delayed.”
Simanov said the protesters “defend the right to freedom of movement.”
Citing provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Refugee Protocol, the asylum seekers are petitioning the federal government to grant them entry to the U.S. mainland.
“The asylum office is located in Los Angeles, California, and all the cases of affirmative asylum seekers are located there,” Simanov said.
“However, local federal services such as the (Customs Border Protection) and (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service) have adopted policies that only asylum seekers are allowed to enter the United States. On this basis, for people who have applied for political asylum, the situation is a vicious circle.”
Simanov said the last time a U.S. immigration officer came to Guam for the asylum case was in August 2019, but no interviews were done.
"This contradicts the Immigration and Naturalization Act 208, which requires an interview to be completed 45 days in advance and a final decision made in 180 days," he said.
"Nevertheless, leaving Guam for the United States is possible, and dozens of Russians are already on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Parole is an extremely flawed procedure in Guam. In addition to the fact that people are denied the right to free movement without due process of law contrary to the U.S. Constitution, parole is issued to enter another country, and only then is used to enter the United States."