Over the past three months the Canadian government, along with a nonprofit, has been quietly resituating LGBTQ Chechens.
The program, which was spearheaded by Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, was brought to the public's attention by nonprofit, Rainbow Railroad. Freeland, who is banned by the Russian Government, is a former journalist who covered the Chechnya conflict.
Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, said Canada’s action is indicative of its commitment to LGBTQ rights internationally. “We hope that, in demonstrating Canada can do something, other countries take the lead as well,” he stated.
Powell explained that the organization had joined forces with the Canadian government to expedite the safe passage of 22 LGBTQ people into the country. The first group of individuals, he said, arrived in June from a safe house in Russia and another nine are expected this week.
“The vast majority of the people we’ve helped are men,” Powell said. “It’s harder for women to escape Chechnya.”
The nonprofit executive disclosed that, in 2016, Rainbow Railroad helped 81 people escape persecution in their home countries for being members of the LGBTQ community.
In May, Canadian Prime Minister (PM) Justin Trudeau denounced as “reprehensible” the “reports of violations of the human rights of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya.”
“We call for the protection of all people in Chechnya whose sexual orientation makes them a target for persecution,” the PM said. Trudeau is a supporter of the LGBTQ community, even attending marches in various Pride parades.
“Canada appears to be the only country that has done this on a such a massive scale,” Tanya Lokshina, the Russia program director for Human Rights Watch, said in a telephone interview. “It’s certainly exceptional. Canada clearly has done the right thing here. Every extra day they stay in this country is an extra day of dire risk.”
In February, Chechen militia and government forces reportedly rounded up over 100 people perceived to be from the LGBT community and tortured them in unofficial detention centers. According to Human Rights Watch, three people died as a result; the incident has been denied by the government.
In an HBO interview, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said that LGBTQ people did not exist in Chechnya. “If there are, take them to Canada,” he said. “To purify our blood if there are any here, take them.”
Powell added that he hoped the program would remain long term, offering asylum to other people facing sexual and gender persecution.
While the purging of LGBTQ people from Chechnya was reportedly discontinued in April, members of the community remain an at-risk group in the traditional, conservative Muslim republic, according to Lokshina.