Over the last few months, the Canadian government has been secretly helping men who were facing arrest and torture for being gay flee Chechnya and seek asylum in Canada.
Canada has offered asylum to 31 men so far, and Rainbow Railroad, a Toronto-based organization that helps LGBT asylum seekers, says so far 22 of them have made it over.
This secret project is somewhat controversial as it puts a spotlight on Canadian and Russian relations, and the unique program falls outside standard international law. Still, the liberal government decided it was time to act when reports about men being tortured and executed surfaced earlier this year.
In April, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that Chechen officials had begun persecuting gay men. The reports were also confirmed by the Russian LGBT Network and by Human Rights Watch.
Prime Minister Trudeau’s government condemned this action, but publicly it did not look as though the Canadian government could intervene within Russia. But, as it turns out, efforts to help these men were already being put into action, according to the Globe and Mail.
"Canada accepted a large number of people who are in great danger, and that is wonderful," Tanya Lokshina, Russian program director for Human Rights Watch, told the Globe and Mail. "The Canadian government deserves much praise for showing such openness and goodwill to provide sanctuary for these people. They did the right thing."
Secretly the federal government worked with Rainbow Railroad and the Russian LGBT network to find targeted Chechen men who were ready to come to Canada.
Kimahli Powell, Rainbow Railroad’s executive director, said that now that this group of men has safely arrived in Canada, it is time to talk about the Chechen refugees publicly. The Chechen newcomers will need help securing jobs, learning language and finding counselling, and that would be hard to do without releasing information about their arrival.
“We needed to be discreet about the program for as long as possible to maintain their safety," Powell told the Globe and Mail, "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.”
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