Politics | September 23, 2017 5:00 am

Canada Has Secretly Been Giving Asylum to Gay Men from Chechnya

Russian province's systematic, violent oppression of LGBT people prompted the effort.

2017 Was the Year of 'Diversity Fatigue'
Rainbow flag commonly the gay pride flag and LGBT pride flag, waiving high in the air. The colors reflect the diversity of the LGBT community. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

In a one-of-a-kind program, the Canadian federal government has secretly been bringing gay Chechen men from Russia into Canada and giving them asylum. According to Toronto’s The Globe and Mail22 of these asylees are now in Toronto and other Canadian cities. More are expected to arrive in the coming weeks, but the program could threaten the relationship between Russia and Canada.

The Globe and Mail writes that a Chechen agency that has been working with the Canadian government to rescue gay men and women in Russia because they are often imprisoned, beaten, and killed there. But now, Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, the Canadian non-profit organization helping to resettle the asylees in Canada, said that it was time to talk publicly about the effort since the Chechens need help with housing, jobs, language training, and more in their new home.

Chechnya is an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation run by strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. Homosexuality is officially considered taboo there, and so-called “honor killings” of gay and lesbians by family members are actually encouraged by the government and go unpunished. Russian President Vladimir Putin has steadily eroded the rights of LGBT people since returning to power. For example, in 2012, he championed a law that banned gay “propaganda.”

The crisis arose last spring. That’s when the Russian LGBT Network, an NGO that advocates for sexual minorities in Russia, and Human Rights Watch both confirmed that Chechen authorities had begun rounding up suspected LGBT members and taking them to detention centers, where they were interrogated and tortured. The exact number of people detained remains unknown.

Canada is not the only country to accept LGBT refugees from Chechnya and other countries from that region. But according to The Globe and Mail, it is the only country to “have adopted an organized, methodical program for taking in as many gay Chechens fleeing persecution as were qualified and willing to come.”