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Canada has quietly been giving asylum to gay Chechens

31 people from the Russian region torturing and murdering gay people have been given safe refuge in the last three months

The Canadian government has been granting asylum to men and women from Chechnya, the Russian region where gay men are being detained, tortured and murdered for their sexuality by authorities. Across the last three months, Canada officials have been working alongside nonprofit The Rainbow Railroad to grant refuge to those fleeing the anti-gay purge.

According to the organisation’s executive director Kimahli Powell, a government programme has helped see 22 gay men and lesbian women over to Canada as refugees. The first to arrive came from a Russian safe house back in June. The program continues, with nine arriving in the next week.

Powell told the New York Times: “The vast majority of the people we’ve helped are men. It’s harder for women to escape Chechnya.”

Adding that Canada’s government showed an international commitment to LGBT rights under president Justin Trudeau, he said: “We hope that, in demonstrating Canada can do something, other countries take the lead as well.”

Local publication Novaya Gazeta was the first outlet to report that around 100 men had been detained in a prison-like camp in Chechnya. Human Rights Watch puts the number executed at around 26.  The journalist who broke the story spoke to Dazed about the increasing concern for her own safety.

The Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has himself suggested deporting gay men to Canada. In an interview where he also described LGBT people as “devils” and “not people”, he said: “If there are any, take them to Canada... take them far from us so we don’t have them at home. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.”

Trudeau was one of the first world leaders to denounce the “reprehensible” attack on gay people in Chechnya. With other countries like the UK, Germany and United States calling for a stop to the violent violation of human rights, Chechen authorities have continued to deny even the very existence of gay people in the region.

“Canada accepted a large number of people who are in great danger, and that is wonderful,” said Tanya Lokshina, the 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.”

France was the first country to take in a Chechen refugee under president Emmanuel Macron. Reports back in June said that the United States had denied the visas for around 40 Chechens. Scores of people continue to hide throughout Russia. There’s no official word yet on other countries implementing official programmes to secure passage for persecuted Chechens yet.

Last month, the Russian LGBT Network released a report into the mass abductions and murder of gay men in Chechnya. The investigation, based on 33 testimonies from survivors, says that several dozens of victims were either tortured to death or murdered. Personal accounts detailed the “snowball effect” of names given away to authorities as more gay people were captured, and the horrific abuse they suffered, with a government official present. Despite international pressure, the detentions are still continuing.