Limbo At Sea Cuban Sails Baltic for Two Months after Visa Denied

The rigmarole of entering foreign countries can often be annoying. But for Cuban architect Luis Cespedes, it was nightmare. He spent two months at sea sailing between Russia and Finland after he was denied entry to both countries.
A file photo of a freighter on the Baltic Sea.

A file photo of a freighter on the Baltic Sea.

Foto: DPA / Swedish Coast Guard

When Luis Cespedes, 41, boarded the ferry in Helsinki, Finland, on June 4, he expected to return to his adopted home of St. Petersburg. Due to multiple visa infractions, however, Russian officials refused him entry. Finland would not take him back either -- his Schengen visa had expired at sea.

It took 21 trips across the Baltic Sea on the Princess Maria ferry before Russian border officials finally allowed Cespedes to disembark on dry land on Monday, according to The Moscow Times.

Cespedes, who was born in Russia and studied in Moscow, had been living in St. Petersburg for about a decade and is married to a Russian woman, he told Moscow-based radio station Ekho Moskvy, according to the paper.

He made the initial trip to Finland to avoid breaching Russian immigration regulations. Though Cuban nationals do not need a visa to enter Russia, they are limited to a 30-day stay, meaning Cespedes had to leave the country once a month. But in the past 12 months he had violated the law twice -- once when he accidentally overstayed his legally allowed term, and another time when a storm prevented his ferry from departing St. Petersburg on time.

Having informed Russian authorities of his infractions, Cespedes was awaiting a decision for permanent residency from the Federal Migration Administration. But because the situation had not been resolved ahead of his monthly trip, Cespedes was barred from re-entering Russia.

'An Idiotic Situation'

It was "an idiotic situation," Cespedes told Ekho Moskvy, expressing surprise that his appeals to immigration services, governmental agencies and human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin were ignored for 47 days.

He was able to see his wife occasionally during the ordeal, such as when she bought return tickets from St. Petersburg to Helsinki to keep him company on board the ferry, Russia Today reports. And the crew of the ferry also seemed to show pity on him, providing Cespedes with a cabin and also reportedly offering him work as a waiter in one of the vessel's restaurants.

Yelena Dunayeva, chief migration officer for the St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region, counters that the situation was Cespedes' own fault.

"I don't know who thought of putting him on a ferry," she told the Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti, according to The Moscow Times. "He should have sorted out his entry ban up front instead of later accusing the border and migration services of callousness."

Tears and Smiles

Cespedes, however, has only won temporary respite. Russian officials have yet to decide on whether they will allow him to stay in the country.

"I can't yet say what we'll do," continued Dunayeva. "The situation is extremely complicated."

Adding to his woes, Cespedes is also facing immigration trouble in his native Cuba, which requires a visit every 11 months if one doesn't want to risk losing certain rights. But it is a trip that Cespedes says he cannot afford.

Russia Today reports that Russian film director Alexei Zlobin is now planning a documentary about Cespedes' adventure, which is reminiscent of that of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee who was forced to live in the departure lounge at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris from 1988 to 2006. The story inspired the "The Terminal," a Hollywood film starring Tom Hanks.

Zlobin told the St. Petersburg city portal that the Cuban is recovering at home with his family, but that he is afraid of what might happen in the future.

"He just cries and says nothing," the director told the paper. "Sometimes, however, he smiles with joy and almost jumps with joy."

-- nds
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