Russian Asylum Seeker’s Death Mystery in Tacoma Prison
This is the story of Mergensana Amar, an asylum seeker all the way from Russia. The story came into light after his death and people are now questioning the whole process of asylum as vague and not transparent.
On a day of November 2017, Mergensana Amar left Russia on a flight to Paris. He had wanted to leave Russia for a long time. He reached Cancún, Mexico and stayed there in a hotel for a couple of days, then moved to Tijuana by train and finally walked into the San Ysidro pedestrian entrance at the U.S. border.
He told the immigration officials that he sought asylum from the United States so that he could get military support from the United States to overthrow current Russian regime and take back his own home at Siberian republic Buryatia. He also claimed that he had been tortured in prison and attacked by racist skinheads who had no fear of the law.
While being interviewed he said that the United States had the highest belief in Human rights and he would also seek financial opportunities and would stay at a Buryat friend living in New Jersey.
And exactly a year after, he died after hanging himself in the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. He was taken to this center to stay while his Asylum application is pending. His death is the 74th incident in the same center since 2010 showing the stark realities about conditions, particularly medical and mental-health treatment.
Recently his documents regarding the asylum have been released, and the new details are being discussed in quite a mouth. The case has once garnered attention from every part of the national polity, and it has drawn questions from immigrant-rights activists, U.S. senators, members of Congress and Gov. Jay Inslee.
Recordings of Amar’s court hearings, transcripts of interviews with federal officials and related documents have been released. But, it is an aberration of the process currently followed. But, the Government officials told that as the person in question is dead now; privacy concern should not matter much.
The records show the conditions of minorities and dissidents in Russia and how they are treated there.
The Russian Story-
Mergensana Amar had a different name at birth, but due to religious beliefs, he changed his name. For the last ten years he had been a Shaman or the leader of the ancient religion called Shamanism — a role that typically involves communicating with the spirit world, followers believe, in a trancelike state.
Buryatia, the place of Amar lies beside Lake Baikal and borders with Mongolia. The land used to belong to USSR in his childhood, and after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, it belonged to Russia. Shamanism was neither accepted in the erstwhile Soviet Union nor present Russia.
Amar had spent a reasonably good life in Russia. He had an economics degree from the East Siberian State Technological University, and he owned a business fixing and selling cars. He followed his passions of wrestling and practiced a Russian martial art called Sambo. He was an extensive traveler and admitted to having visited Mongolia and South Korea 10 times in the previous few years, and the trip lasted from two weeks to several months.
But, after all these, he said the Russia of contemporary times is intolerable.
Recalling an incident of 2015, he said he was attacked by a group of natives in a train to Moscow; they called him “Churka,” an offensive name for the Asians. They dropped Amar and kicked him leaving him injured. That incident gave him a hematoma under his left eye and bruises on his arms, legs, and back. But, hospitals refused to treat him and also the Police department refused to investigate the incident owing to his Asian features. He was asked to go back to the place he came from.
Later on, he went to Buryatia and joined a secret independence party. He said that the way the Soviet Union treated his religion; he got the same in the Russian regime as well. His local dialect was not taught in schools, his religion was banned, and the local nature of Buryatia had been polluted, and the lake was being destroyed.
In 2016, he participated in a protest, and he was detained and jailed. He was tortured like animals in that jail. The persons in the jail hit him with bags of sand and a bat leaving him badly injured.
The story in the United States-
Amar’s lawyer, Liya Djamilova, had submitted a document stating the dire state of Human Rights violation in Russia and also included a voluminous U.S. State Department report showing instances of “extrajudicial killings, including of LGBTI persons in Chechnya; enforced disappearances; torture that was systematic and sometimes resulted in death and sometimes included punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening conditions in Russian prisons; arbitrary arrest and detention”. The lawyer also showed the court some newspaper ads in Russia for rental homes discriminating against Asians.
The asylum process here in the United States is very complex. The major problem here is the lack of witnesses and verifying documents. And it is tough for the Asylum seekers to prove that everything they described had really happened to them.
In Amar’s case, the discrepancy was found in the testifying statements. There was a difference in the statement.
And, as per Amar’s appeal near the U.S. court, soon after he was transferred to Tacoma detention center, he protested and started a hunger strike against lack of food. He was then placed in medical isolation and couldn’t access the law library.
This is the whole information now available in the public domain. There are still questions like what happened in the detention center and how he killed himself.
Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General said that the matter was being investigated and the reason of death would be known to the public soon. Whether this is a case of use of excessive force or another mental illness related death, it should be made clear. The incomplete story of Mergensana Amar will haunt the values of the United States that prioritize human dignity over anything for days ahead.
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