Russia cancels a successful and long-running student exchange program with the U.S. after a gay Russian student makes an appeal for asylum in the states.
Russia ends US student exchange in part over 'friendly relations' of gay men
Longstanding study abroad program ends as Kremlin official claims student was persuaded to ask for US asylum by Michigan couple
Russian authorities have cancelled a long-running foreign exchange program with the United States, alleging that a gay couple persuaded a young man to stay with them and apply for asylum after he was meant to return home.
In announcing the end of Russia’s participation in the US government-run Future Leaders Exchange (Flex) program, children’s rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov claimed that two gay men became the legal guardians of a Russian student, after the student left his original host family and stayed in America when the school year ended in May.
“One of the reasons [for the decision] was the gross violation by the host country, the United States, of the obligation to unconditionally return students from Russia who travel there to study,” Astakhov wrote on his Twitter account on Wednesday.
US ambassador to Russia John Tefft said in a statement the Russian government had canceled its participation in Flex, the largest educational exchange program between the two countries, for 2015-16. Since it was founded in 1992, the state department-financed program has brought 23,000 students aged 15 to 17 from former Soviet countries to study in American schools and live with local families for one academic year, including about 8,000 students from Russia.
Astakhov said in an interview with the official government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta that the student, who was born in 1997, moved in with two men in Michigan, “and they gradually developed – how can I say this carefully – close friendly relations.”
“The men wanted to register their guardianship over him and have him live with them, and he agreed,” he said.
Russian state news agency Itar-Tass reported that the student met the gay couple, elderly veterans who had previously adopted two American boys, in church, quoting legal representatives of the Russian embassy in the United States. The couple offered to become his immigration sponsors and pay for him to study at Harvard University, it reported.
“Under their influence and with the permission of his American host family, the young Russian turned himself in to US immigration authorities and asked for asylum, saying that he was gay,” Itar-Tass reported.
Human rights organisations have accused the Russian government of promoting discrimination following a 2013 law against gay propaganda, and this year the country passed legislation banning the adoption of Russian children by same-sex couples or single people in countries where same-sex marriage is legal. Previously, Russia also banned all adoptions by US citizens.
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