Americas / Europe

Canada welcomes 22 to 31 gay Chechen refugees

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov (Photo courtesy of ABC News)

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov denied the mass arrests of gay citizens. His claim: “Such people do not exist.” (Photo courtesy of ABC News)

Almost two dozen gay Chechens, or more, have found refuge in Canada under a program developed by the Canadian government and the LGBTI refugee aid program Rainbow Railroad.

The Toronto-based Globe and Mail and The New York Times reported that Canada accepted 22 gay Chechens, rescuing them from the anti-gay crackdown in which 100 people were detained and three or more were killed.

Rainbow Rainbow cited a larger number of gay Chechens rescued. On Facebook, the organization stated, “we have helped 140 people from all over the world this year, including 31 people from Chechnya to Canada under this program, with the opportunity to help more.”

Canadian broadcaster CTV News reported:

Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad (Photo courtesy of Daily Xtra)

Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad (Photo courtesy of Daily Xtra)

Kimalhi Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, says the non-profit group heard in April that Chechen forces were abducting, torturing and murdering gay men.

Powell says the charity worked with the Russian LGBT Network to establish safe houses for 37 people looking to escape the country, and partnered with the Canadian government on emergency visas.

Rainbow Railroad says 31 of those it has helped leave Chechnya have now arrived in Canada.

“It’s very exciting to see the optimism in their eyes,” Powell told CTV News Channel on Friday.

He added that the Chechens in Canada are “going to need a lot of support,” because many have experienced trauma and they do not speak much English.

Powell said he hopes the partnership with the Canadian government can be used as a model to save more persecuted people.

Rainbow Railroad logo

Rainbow Railroad logo

“When I started to talk to the Canadian government about this issue, I mentioned that we cannot just be reactionary in these crises,” he said.

Rainbow Railroad says it has helped more than 140 persecuted individuals escape to safe countries in 2017.

Rainbow Railroad was founded in 2006, and has grown to include a series of volunteers, lawyers and social workers who help refugees experiencing physical violence or the threat of violence, imprisonment, or death, to find asylum.

The Globe and Mail reported:

How Canada has been secretly giving asylum to gay people in Chechnya fleeing persecution

For three months, the federal government has been secretly spiriting gay Chechen men from Russia to Canada, under a clandestine program unique in the world.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (Photo courtesy of Maclean's)

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (Photo courtesy of Maclean’s)

The evacuations, spearheaded by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, fall outside the conventions of international law and could further impair already tense relations between Russia and Canada. But the Liberal government decided to act regardless.

As of this week, 22 people – about a third of those who were being sheltered in Russian safe houses – are now in Toronto and other Canadian cities. Several others are expected to arrive in the coming days or weeks.

“Canada accepted a large number of people who are in great danger, and that is wonderful,” said Tanya Lokshina, Russian program director for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organization, in a telephone interview. “The Canadian government deserves much praise for showing such openness and goodwill to provide sanctuary for these people. They did the right thing.”

“It’s important that our community, who are concerned about them, know that they’re here, that they’re safe” – Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad

The decision may be seen as controversial. Homosexuals in many parts of the world are harassed, imprisoned, even – as happened recently in Indonesia – publicly flogged.

And the government is struggling to accommodate thousands of mostly Haitian asylum-seekers flooding into Canada from the United States, even as opposition politicians demand that Ottawa find a way to plug the loophole that lets them in.

But the Liberals decided the situation was unique: Chechen security forces were rounding up gay men in a program, placing them in need of immediate rescue.

The location of Chechnya between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea.

The location of the Russian republic of Chechnya between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea.

The program has been a closely held secret within the government for months. Non-governmental organizations that were involved have also kept silent, for fear that any leaks could imperil the people they were trying to help.

However, Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian NGO, said the time has come to speak publicly about the Chechen refugees, because those who wanted to come to Canada are now here, and because the new arrivals need help with employment, language training and counselling, which are difficult to provide when their presence is being kept under wraps.

“We needed to be discreet about the program for as long as possible to maintain their safety,” said Mr. Powell, whose Toronto-based organization offers support for LGBT people at risk in other countries. “We now have to focus on settlement and integration of these individuals. And it’s important that our community, who are concerned about them, know that they’re here, that they’re safe.”

A government official, speaking on background, has said that until now, Ottawa has not been willing to publicly acknowledge the operation.

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