Keys Father Fights For Family's Return From Turkmenistan
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KEY WEST (CBSMiami) -- A Key West family has been torn apart. What was supposed to have been a two week summer family visit to Central Asia has turned into a travel nightmare. A mother and her 4-year old son are stuck in a country that doesn't seem to follow any real immigration rules.
Mike Petro, husband and father, has been in Key West trying to get his family out for months.
Holding back tears he said, "It's been a very hollow feeling not having my family and my son. I've been holding everything in for so long."
Mike Petro hasn't seen his son, Mike and his wife, Aziza since they left on June 10th. Their 11-year-old daughter, Mercedes also traveled with them to Turkmenistan.
Aziza was born there and wanted to show her kids where she grew up and pay her respects to her mother's grave. But when she got there Turkmen officials told her she wouldn't be allowed to leave.
"They would not recognize her US passport and made her enter the country with her Turkmen passport but they wouldn't stamp it nor would they stamp my kids passport or visa," said Petro.
Months before traveling the Turkmenistan Embassy told them that his wife would have to renounce her Turkmenian citizenship which she did. Once she arrived, she would be issued an exit visa on her US passport. That didn't happen. Petro says he knew they were stuck. For 3 months he has been calling the State Department, the US Embassy and the Turkmenistan Embassy and spoken to anyone who would listen. Finally, they were able to get their 11-year-old daughter, Mercedes out. She traveled alone to London where Petro met her just last week.
Mercedes sat at the kitchen counter at their Key West home and fidgeted while she talked about being scared and nervous, "I was biting my nails nervous."
"Getting her back was a relief," said Petro as he gave her a hug.
With his wife and son still detained in Turkmenistan, Petro has taken to social media and created a Facebook page called; Bring My Family Home. He is calling out all national and local officials and demanding answers.
"Ambassador Allan Mustard who is the Turkmenistan ambassador, authorized 100 grand on September 15 to Turkmenistan to restore historic tombs in the country. It's a drop in a bucket but 100 grand and my wife and children are being detained in this country? Who is negotiating and where, is my question," asked Petro.
Turkmenistan is a country that holds the Guiness World Record for its number of marble buildings. It's a country that "remains one of the world's most repressive," according to a 2014 Human Rights Watch Report. It borders Iran, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
With the world's fourth-largest gas reserves, it produces roughly 70 billion cubic metres of natural gas each year that's 28 million Olympic swimming pools.
It's a politically tricky situation. Turkmenistan is considered a US ally so turning up the heat is risky.
Just this week, Petro met with his US Representaive Carlos Curbelo who said these types of immigration situations are difficult and take time.
He told CBS4 News, "Turkmenistan is an authoritarian government, the laws aren't exactly clear. Due process system isn't as effective as here in the US."
It appears only a signature from the Turkmenian president would allow Mike's wife to leave the country and as it turns out he is in New York this week.
Curbelo said, "We're trying to set up a meeting between American diplomats and Turkmenian diplomats in NY later this week. All the world leaders will be there for the UN."
With all eyes on NY and Pope Francis's address to the United Nations; back in Key West Petro clings on to hope and waits to make his family whole again.
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