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2 Russians seek asylum after reaching remote Alaskan island

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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Two Russians who said they fled the country to avoid military service have sought asylum in the United States after landing in a small boat on a remote Alaskan island in the Bering Sea. , the office of U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski said Thursday.

Karina Borger, spokeswoman for the Republican senator from Alaska, said in an email that the office was in communication with the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection and that “Russian nationals have reported that ‘they had fled one of the coastal communities to the east’. coast of Russia to avoid compulsory military service.

Thousands of Russian men have fled since President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilization to reinforce Russian forces in Ukraine. While Putin said the move was aimed at calling up around 300,000 men who had previously served in the military, many Russians fear it could be broader.

Spokespeople for the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection referred a reporter’s questions to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s public affairs office, which provided little information Thursday. The office, in a statement, said the individuals “were transported to Anchorage for inspection, which includes a screening and vetting process, and then processed in accordance with applicable U.S. immigration laws under the Immigration Act. ‘immigration and nationality’.

The agency said the two Russians arrived on a small boat on Tuesday. He did not provide details of where they came from, their background or the asylum request. It was not immediately clear what type of boat they were on.

Alaska senators, Republicans Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, said Thursday the two Russians landed on a beach near the town of Gambell, an isolated Alaskan Native community of about 600 people on St. -Laurent. Sullivan said he was alerted to the matter by a “senior Bering Strait area community official” on Tuesday morning.

Gambell is about 200 miles (320 kilometers) from the community of Nome, the hub of western Alaska, and about 36 miles (58 kilometers) from Siberia’s Chukotka Peninsula, according to a profile of the community on a state website. The 161 kilometer long remote island, which includes Savoonga, a community of around 800 people, receives flight services from a regional air carrier. Residents rely heavily on a subsistence lifestyle, harvesting sea fish, whales and other marine species.

A person who responded to an email address listed for Gambell raised questions with federal authorities. A message seeking comment was also sent to the Russian Consulate General in San Francisco.

Sullivan, in a statement, said he encouraged federal authorities to put a plan in place in case “more Russians flee to Bering Strait communities in Alaska.”

“This incident clearly shows two things: First, the Russian people do not want to wage Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” Sullivan said. “Second, given Alaska’s proximity to Russia, our state has a vital role to play in ensuring the national security of the United States.”

Murkowski said the situation underscores “the need for a stronger security posture in the American Arctic.”

On Wednesday, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, as the first details of the situation emerged, said he did not expect a continuous flow or “flotilla” of people using the same route. He also warned that travel in the region could be dangerous as an autumn storm with high winds was expected.

It is unusual for someone to take this route in an attempt to enter the United States

In August, US authorities arrested 42 times Russians without legal status trying to enter the United States from Canada. This represented 15 times in July and nine times in August 2021.

Russians more often try to enter the United States through Mexico, which does not require a visa. Russians typically fly from Moscow to Cancun or Mexico City, entering Mexico as tourists before catching a connecting flight to the US border. Earlier this year, US authorities faced a wave of Russians hoping to seek asylum if they reached an inspection booth at an official crossing.

Some trace the spike to before Russia invaded Ukraine, attributing it to the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny last year.

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Associated Press reporters Manuel Valdes in Seattle and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.