5 Russians Have Been Stranded In Seoul Incheon Airport For Months After Fleeing Putin’s War

Tom Hanks introduced the world to the story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, the man who spent 18 years living in Paris Charles de Gaulle airport’s terminal 1, in the film The Terminal which also starred Catherine Zeta-Jones and Stanley Tucci.

Nasseri, who recently passed away back at the main Paris airport, actually had refused to leave because he wanted immigration documents to list him as a U.K. citizen rather than an Iranian, and because he wanted his papers to reflect the name Sir Alfred Mehran.

People do get stuck in airports, though, in immigration limbo. One issue that’s come up is the result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Russians that have fled the country to avoid being drafted as cannon fodder in Putin’s war.

Currently 5 Russians are stranded in Seoul Incheon airport because South Korea doesn’t recognize fleeing a draft as a valid reason for an asylum claim. South Korea is one of the toughest countries in the world in which to claim asylum. The five individuals survive on “a muffin and a pack of juice for breakfast and dinner, and rice with chicken for lunch” which is provided to them by the South Korean Ministry of Justice.

  • They fled at the end of September as Russia was drafting men to send to Ukraine, saying they object to the invasion and refuse to kill innocent people.

  • One drove across the Mongolian border to Ulaanbaatar, then flew to Manila (where they stayed for weeks) before continuing to Seoul and seeking refugee status.

    “Although I don’t have any connections with South Korea, I knew that it is a very developed country in terms of democracy and civil rights,” he said, when asked why he specifically chose to flee to Korea. “The news that a former (Korean) president was sentenced to prison for corruption crimes blew my mind. We could never imagine a leader facing trial in Russia.”

  • Another had actively protested the war prior to conscription. He had taken a train to Kazakhstan, but fled there out of fear the government would send him back to Russia.

  • All five have non-profit legal representation, are appealing their asylum refusals. A ruling is expected within the next several weeks. If they lose their case they’ll likely be deported.

These men sit in the airport out of fear that granting asylum could further degrade relations with Russia, or encourage others to come.

During the pandemic it became much more common for passengers to live in airports as borders were shut down while people were in transit. 22 Indian citizens got stuck in Dubai; 3 people headed to mainland China from New Zealand got stuck in Taipei. Three Nigerians were stuck for three months in Bangkok.

One man, afraid to fly, wound up living at Chicago O’Hare for 3 months instead of catching a flight, while another wound up living in Singapore’s Changi airport because they couldn’t afford the change fee on a ticket. And not technically inside the airport, another man lives – and farms – in the middle of Tokyo Narita airport.

(HT: Paddle Your Own Kanoo)

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