Canada provides asylum to gay people fleeing persecution in Chechnya

Canada is secretly providing asylum to gay men fleeing Chechnya, Russia in an effort to save as many people as possible and serve as a demonstration for like-minded countries

4 September 2017, 9:36am
Last updated on 4 September 2017, 11:55am
Photo: Huffington Post
Photo: Huffington Post
The federal government of Canada has been secretly aiding gay Chechen men flee persecution in Russia, in an under-the-radar programme introduced under the guidance of Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign affairs minister.

Freeland “wanted to be able to save a few individuals”, according to a government source. “And we also wanted to allow Canada to serve as a demonstration for like-minded countries about what could be done.”

The deeply conservative republic of Chechnya was reported to have launched a “gay purge” last spring, which was originally reported by Novaya Gazeta, Russian opposition newspaper. It was reported that at least 100 men had been detained “in connection with their non-traditional sexual orientation”. 

The MailOnline also claimed the existence of a detention centre’ a form of concentration camp, in the town of Argun, which was designed to imprison and torture members of the LGBTQI+ community, so they would leave the republic.

The Russian LGBT Network claimed that men were being hunted, collected and beaten, sometimes even to death. They went on to report that 52 people had contacted them claiming to have been detained and tortured.

Reports on numbers vary, but at least 26 men are thought to have been murdered.

Over the last three months, 22 people, many of whom were living in safe houses in Russia are said to now be safe in Canadian cities, including Toronto. Others who are fleeing Russia’s anti-gay discrimination are expected to touch don in Canada over the next few weeks.

The asylum deal does not fall under the conventions of international law, but the North American country is moving forward despite this.

“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.

“The Canadian government deserves much praise for showing such openness and goodwill to provide sanctuary for these people. They did the right thing.”

The government scheme has been operating covertly for fear of reprisals. Kimahli Powell, the executive director of Rainbow Railroad, has spoken out, saying: “We needed to be discreet about the program for as long as possible to maintain their safety.”

But, he added: “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.”

The Canadian government has taken a strong stand against LGBTQI+ discrimination. Prime Minister Justin Trudeu said: “We deplore the recent, reprehensible 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.

“Human rights have no borders.”

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov suggested deporting gay men to North America too, commenting: “if there are any, take them to Canada...take them far from us so we don’t have them at home”. 

Kadyrov has pursued homophobic policies in Chechnya since 2013, while the human rights situation for LGBTQI+ all over Russia has deteriorated significantly in recent years.