2 Russians who landed on St. Lawrence Island now seeking asylum in the US

2 Russians who landed on St. Lawrence Island now seeking asylum in the US
Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 5:56 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The two men who crossed the Bering Sea from Russia and landed on St. Lawrence Island earlier this week are seeking asylum in the United States, according to a spokesperson for Sen. Dan Sullivan.

Sen. Dan Sullivan’s office confirmed Thursday that the two Russian men who said they sailed from a coastal city in northeastern Russia to escape compulsory military service are now seeking asylum in the United States. The two men landed their boat near the village of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island earlier this week.

An update from the Department of Homeland Security said the men were flown to Anchorage and “processed in accordance with applicable U.S. immigration laws under the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

Both Senators Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski have expressed concerns, shared in a press release on Thursday. Murkowski said the federal response was “lacking” and Sullivan said that federal agencies responded “adequately.”

In a phone interview Thursday, Senator Sullivan praised how villagers reacted to the unusual situation.

“I do want to just express my appreciation to the communities that handled this very well,” Sullivan said. “This is obviously a pretty unique event. People recognized it was not only a unique event, but potentially something — given the current tensions with Russia — that could have consequences and ramifications beyond Alaska. And I think that the local community leaders with whom I spoke handled it really well.”

But Sullivan said the state needs to be better prepared if it happens again. He said coastal residents need to know the federal government will provide a lot more support.

“The message that I want to send to them is, we are pressing the federal government at the highest levels that the next time this happens, if it does indeed happen again, that they shouldn’t be having to respond just by themselves,” Sullivan said.

An update from the Department of Homeland Security said the men were flown to Anchorage and “processed in accordance with applicable U.S. immigration laws under the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

Anchorage immigration attorney Margaret Stock said the men are likely to be eligible for asylum, although she didn’t know the specifics of their case.

“Under U.S. law you are eligible for asylum if you don’t want to serve in a military that commits war crimes, and the Russian military has been committing massive numbers of war crimes,” Stock said.

And while Stock said the situation is unusual in Alaska, people cross into other parts of the country frequently to seek asylum.

“Although in Alaska we are not used to people walking up to our border or taking a boat up to our border seeking asylum, it’s very, very common in Florida, California other parts of the United States, because people have to get to a U.S. border in order to claim asylum,” Stock said.

Stock said the process includes formally applying for asylum and undergoing a hearing with an immigration judge. She said the process could easily take several months.