An aerial view of a large island on a cloudy day

UPDATE: The two foreign nationals have been identified as Indigenous Siberians from Eastern Russia. Senator Lisa Murkowski confirmed this information during the Alaska Federation Natives Convention on Saturday, October 22nd.

She told the Associated Press, “It is very clear to me that these individuals were in fear, so much in fear of their own government that they risked their lives and took a 15-foot skiff across those open waters,” Murkowski said.

ORIGINAL: Two foreign nationals coming from Russia were detained on St. Lawrence Island earlier the week of Oct. 2 before being taken to Anchorage.

The two unidentified men arrived in Gambell via boat on Oct. 4. By the morning of Oct. 5, the two foreign nationals were transferred to Anchorage, according to the 17th District of the U.S. Coast Guard. Various agencies are currently working to identify these men and determine why they crossed the International Date Line via boat and if they will be allowed to remain in the U.S.

The Department of Homeland Security and the office of Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, in Alaska are taking the lead on this case.

In an email, a Homeland Security spokesperson said, “The individuals were transported to Anchorage for inspection, which includes a screening and vetting process, and then subsequently processed in accordance with applicable U.S. immigration laws under the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

According to Alaska’s News Source, officials in Gambell said the men told locals they were fleeing the Russian military.

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a limited mobilization last month, drafting up to 300,000 men for Russia’s failing invasion of Ukraine – a move which has made many potential draftees, particularly in outlying areas of Russia, seek to leave.

In a Thursday statement, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan identified the duo as “Russian nationals”

Senator Sullivan said, “this incident makes two things clear: First, the Russian people don’t want to fight Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Second, given Alaska’s proximity to Russia, our state has a vital role to play in securing America’s national security.”

Murkowski noted that the federal response was “lacking,” calling for additional federal resources to be sent to Alaska. “Only local officials and state law enforcement had the capability to immediately respond to the asylum seekers, while Customs and Border Protection had to dispatch a Coast Guard aircraft from over 750 miles away to get on scene,” Murkowski said. “This situation underscores the need for a stronger security posture in America’s Arctic, which I have championed throughout my time in the Senate.”

Alaska Public Media contributed to this report.

Image at top: An aerial view of St. Lawrence Island, circa 2015. Photo by Laura Kraegel, KNOM.

1 Comment

  1. Sue Steinacher on October 6, 2022 at 10:14 am

    I’m eager to learn if these are Native men. Sadly, Putin has focused his enlistment efforts on more remote Indigenous regions in Russia, where he has encountered less push-back. Already several men from Chukotka have come back from Ukraine in coffins. I hope our government sees these men as asylum seekers – especially if they are from an Indigenous group,