A Canadian charity has reported that they’ve helped 31 gay and bisexual men escape persecution in the Russian region of Chechnya.
Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and human rights groups reported in April that gay men in Chechnya were being abducted and violently tortured because of their sexual orientation, prompting global outcry.
The Toronto-based charity Rainbow Railroad announced on Friday they’d successfully helped the 31 Chechens arrange emergency visas and travel arrangements and 22 of the men had arrived in Canada.
Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell told the Globe and Mail that they’d worked with the Canadian government in secret to help the men.
“We needed to be discreet about the program for as long as possible to maintain their safety,” Powell said.
“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.”
He said the Chechens in Canada will need training and counselling because many had experienced trauma and speak little English.
Powell explained in a Facebook video that Rainbow Railroad worked in partnership with local activists from the Russian LGBT Network, who established safehouses for the men.
He said there are about 40 Chechens still in safehouses waiting to leave Russia and acknowledged the “bravery and heroism” of the Russian LGBT Network.
“They’re the ones that established the hotlines and put their lives at risk trying to communicate with people who were fleeing Chechnya to get them to safehouses across Russia,” he said.
Chechen authorities, including leader Ramzan Kadyrov, have repeatedly denied persecuting the men and suggested there were no gay people in the region at all.
(Photo by Kremlin.ru)