Gay Chechen men find new home in Canada after persecution

In this Monday, May 1, 2017 file photo, a gay rights activist holding a rainbow umbrella is detained by police during a rally marking May Day in downtown St. Petersburg, Russia. In the past two months, there have been large-scale detentions of gay men in Nigeria and Bangladesh, and chilling accounts of roundups and torture of scores of gays in Chechnya. AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky

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.

READ MORE: Canadians take leading role in helping gay men escape Chechnya

Click to play video: 'The dangerous fight for gay rights in Russia' The dangerous fight for gay rights in Russia
The dangerous fight for gay rights in Russia – May 15, 2017

“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.

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“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.

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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.

READ MORE: 5 arrested in Russia as they called for an investigation into Chechen detentions of gay men

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.”


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