Canada shelters gay Chechens
Canada has granted asylum to 22 gay men and women from Chechnya since the end of June, amid a government extermination campaign in the Russian region.
Rainbow Railroad, a Toronto-based NGO that helps gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people escape state-organised violence, revealed the hitherto secret project on Facebook.
Kimahli Powell of the organisation told The Daily Telegraph that the group contacted Randy Boissonnault, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special LGBT adviser, in April following reports that gay men were being tortured and killed in the mainly Muslim region.
“The vast majority of the people we’ve helped are men,” Powell said. “It’s harder for women to escape Chechnya.”
Boissonnault and the Canadian Global Affairs and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship departments coordinated the effort.
Nine more gay Chechens are expected to arrive in Canada this week.
“We hope that, in demonstrating Canada can do something, other countries take the lead as well,” Powell said.
All of the refugees were first sheltered in safe houses in other areas of Russia. Most were men, and most would settle in Toronto, the largest Canadian city, said Powell, who visited Russia in May to help coordinate the mission.
France and Germany have each accepted a gay Chechen refugee while Lithuania sheltered two asylum seekers as the authorities in Grozny have reportedly been detaining, torturing and murdering gay men.
The semi-autonomous republic was reported to have launched a “gay purge” earlier this year by Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s opposition newspaper. The paper said at least 100 men had been seized “in connection with their non-traditional sexual orientation”.
In July, the region’s dictatorial leader Ramzan Kadyrov told HBO that if there were gays in Chechnya “take them to Canada”.
Grozny has repeatedly denied the claims and Kadyrov told HBO that gay people did not exist in his country.
“It sends a very powerful statement about our leadership in the global community when it comes to LGBT rights,” said Powell.
“Part of the reason I thought we could call on the [Canadian] government to act because I was proud of our prime minister’s powerful tweet about Canada being the place accepting of all people, in response to the proposed US travel ban in January.”
On January 27, Trudeau tweeted: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”
The news has won praise from human rights activists.
“Canada accepted a large number of people who are in great danger, and that is wonderful,” said Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch’s Russian programme.
“The Canadian government deserves much praise for showing such openness and goodwill to provide sanctuary for these people. They did the right thing.”
#WelcomeToCanada. Picture credit: Flickr