Russia has canceled a foreign exchange program with the U.S., alleging that a gay couple persuaded a man to stay with them and apply for asylum, reports The Guardian.
Since 1992, the state department-financed Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) has brought 23,000 students aged 15 to 17 from Russia and former Soviet countries to study in U.S. schools and live with local families for one academic year.
Human rights organisations have accused the Russian government of promoting discrimination following the introduction of a "gay propaganda" law last year.
Announcing the end of the country’s participation in FLEX, Russia’s children’s rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov [pictured above] said the couple became the legal guardians of the Russian student, after the student left his host family and stayed in the U.S. when the school year ended in May.
According to Russian state news agency Itar-Tass, the student met the couple - elderly veterans who had previously adopted two American boys - in church and the men offered to become his immigration sponsors and pay for him to study at Harvard University.
Astakhov explained on Twitter that the cancellation came about because of a “gross violation by the host country, the United States, of the obligation to unconditionally return students from Russia who travel there to study.”
Одна из причин - грубое нарушение принимающей стороной(США) обязательств по безусловному возвращению прибывших на обучение школьников из РФ.— Павел Астахов (@RFdeti) October 1, 2014
In an interview with the official government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta, he added that the student moved in with the two men in Michigan, “and they gradually developed – how can I say this carefully – close friendly relations.”
Anton Meshkov, a former FLEX student, said the fact that 15 young people are thought to have stayed in the U.S. after the program ended was not a “serious reason to take away the chance to travel from hundreds of kids”.
“It’s absurd to suppose that the program could facilitate the seduction of young Russians. As a participant in this program myself, I know what a serious selection process host families go through.”
Last year, Astakhov vowed he would do everything possible to ensure that Russian orphans were only adopted by heterosexual couples.