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)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. I wonder if the US could quietly grant them asylum and give them new identities like under the Witness Protection program? I’m personally all for that.

  2. @Gregg B
    Would you agree to do the same for Japanese citizens fleeing empire draft in 1943? Being naive (if not stupid) enough to believe that their potential asylum destination provides “democracy and civil rights” is not a crime, but shouldn’t be reinforced either.
    If you compelled to feel compassion to them, don’t. You don’t know the type. They used to be called “white coats”, now they are spreading across the world in search of “pumpkin latte” – the lifestyle they used to live looking the other way to the atrocities of their government. Now their status quo changed and all of a sudden they are victims and refugees? Oh, please.. Tell that to Ukrainians.

  3. Andy (the other one),
    As a matter of fact, I have a Ukrainian coming in about half an hour to help us as a cleaner at our house. She and her family have come fleeing Putin’s war.
    Gee, I was raised outside the US. I wonder where I would be if the people in that country thought we you do? /snark

  4. @Gregg B
    You didn’t answer my question, but OK. Just ask your Ukrainian help what they think Korea must do with those Russians. Should they grant them asylum or send them to US as you suggested?

  5. If South Korea doesn’t give them asylum, then we should.
    As I posted, we could possibly give them new identities. I see no reason that we shouldn’t. I’ve met many immigrants who work hard and maybe a reasonable living. They are a net contribution to our society and economy. If you have a problem with that, perhaps you need to do some thinking and find some empathy.

  6. @Gregg B
    Of course you don’t. I would ask you if we need to give the same treatment – asylum and new identities – to your Ukrainian help first, because most probably they don’t have it. Most of recent Ukrainian war refugees are on so called Advanced Parole here, subject to reissue every year, so they can be kicked out at the whim of current administration at any moment. But asking you questions or trying to tell you anything outside your little dogmas seems like a futile exercise. I’m an immigrant myself (not from either Russia or Ukraine, although speak both languages fluently), so forgive me if I won’t follow your advise to find empathy for Russian draft dodgers or can’t make myself believing they can be a net contribution to anything.
    Just for the sake of conversation, I think Korea must deport them to Ukraine, so Ukrainians can exchange them for some prisoners of war. And since Korea doesn’t seem to care much about them except some juice, chicken and rice (wise choice, I must say) they better send the bill to you. After all, that’s you who proposed to give them new identities at the expense of US taxpayers, so I assure you, 5 one way tickets from ICN to WAW (you can use either UR or MR via any SkyTeam transfer partner) is a bargain under the circumstances.

  7. (sigh) As far as my friend and her family, we’re taking about women and kids. Good Lord, man. They’re not “draft dodgers.”
    I have no problem with our country allowing desperate, frightened people asylum. “My dogmas?” My “dogmas” are
    Matthew 25:44-45: “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you? ‘ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
    Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
    Jeremiah 22:3 “Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.”

    There are many more, but I think my point is made. They need help. We can provide it. I don’t think this is a profitable discussion for us.

  8. They are probably the same guys that were chanting for Putin and the war, after all, 90% Russians are/were in favor of the war. Up until they started a draft, then suddenly it’s their own skin that needs saving and they are poor victims that need asylum. Before the draft – there was no problem!.
    If they are for Putin, they don’t deserve asylum, if they are against him, go back home and change your country.

  9. They should have made it to Mexico, then they could just walk across the border into the USA. No questions asked by the Brandon Administration.

Comments are closed.