OTTAWA – The head of a Toronto organization that helped gay men flee torture and abuse in Chechnya says they are coming to terms with life in Canada, but remain fearful for their safety.
Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, says he believes the 22 men who have so far arrived in Canada are safe from any possible reprisals because there are few Chechens here who could do them harm.
“In Canada, they still don’t fully realize that they’re safe. There are lots of fears about a possible Canadian Chechen diaspora,” he said Thursday.
“As far as we know, Canada does not have a Chechen diaspora,” he added. “As far as we’re concerned, they’re safe, and can start to become integrated into the community.”
Powell says the men are traumatized, but the focus now is on helping the asylum seekers adjust to life in what is an unfamiliar, albeit safe country.
The men are among 31 the government has given permission to come to Canada in a clandestine effort that began after reports of torture and persecution of gay men in the Russian republic first surfaced last spring, he said.
The final nine are expected to arrive imminently, he added.
The government has not commented on the Chechen effort, but Powell credits Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault, the government’s LGBTQ special adviser, with spearheading the initiative.
Refugee advocates have been pushing the Liberal government to make it easier for members of the Russian LGBTQ community to come to Canada after the reports emerged earlier this year that gay and bisexual men were being imprisoned and tortured in Chechnya.
In June, the Immigration Department announced a policy change that gave some failed asylum seekers from Russia a second chance to stave off deportation if they could make the case that they face harm at home.
Powell travelled to Chechnya in May to meet some of the persecuted men.
“They were in a state of constant fear about their environment and surroundings,” he recalled.
“The point of the terror program was to round them up, torture them to get more names, and then out them to their families and communities with the expectation their families would take care of the situation, whether that meant murder or any other means.”