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Russian Asylum Seeker Dies In U.S. Custody, Days Before Deportation

The Russian Embassy in Washington (file photo)
The Russian Embassy in Washington (file photo)

The Russian Embassy in the United States says it is looking into the circumstances of the death of a Russian citizen who died at an immigration jail in the state of Washington.

The embassy issued a statement posted on its Facebook page on November 29, three days after the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency said that 40-year-old Mergensana Amar had been removed from life support on November 24.

An ICE statement said Amar, who entered the United States last December and sought asylum, had been rushed to a medical center in the city of Tacoma after attempting to commit suicide inside his cell at a detention center nine days earlier – on November 15

The preliminary cause of death has been identified as anoxic brain injury due to asphyxiation, according to the statement.

The agency said Amar was placed in its custody after “he sought admission at a U.S. port of entry without the proper documentation to enter or remain in the United States.”

He was due to be deported this month.

Rights activists who monitor the detention center where Amar was held said he was on a nearly three-month hunger strike to protest against the conditions of his detention and his pending deportation to Russia.

Maru Mora Villalpando, an organizer with the Northwest Detention Center Resistance, said the Russian, an ethnic Buryat, had been retaliated against, including by threats of force-feeding.

Villalpando said Amar was afraid to return to Russia, where he said he had faced persecution for demonstrating in support of the Siberian region of Buryatia’s independence.

According to ICE, Amar began consuming fresh fruit, electrolytes, and meal replacement shakes on September 19 and was consuming enough calories by October 16 to be taken off "hunger strike status."

The man “repeated threats to resume the hunger strike should its end be made public, the agency said.

With reporting by The Seattle Times and AP
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