Canada has quietly been giving asylum to gay men fleeing persecution in Chechnya, it has been revealed.
In the last three months, the federal government has secretly ferried up to 22 victims of the Russian republic’s anti-gay crackdown out the country to its own shores.
According to a report by The Globe and Mail, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has led efforts to grant asylum to men who were forced to flee Chechnya following leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s violent crackdown at the beginning of the year.
22 men – reprenting which a third of those who were being sheltered in Russian safe houses following domestic efforts to help gay men flee the region – are now living safely in Toronto and other Canadian cities.
“Canada accepted a large number of people who are in great danger, and that is wonderful,” said Tanya Lokshina, Russian program director for the New-based 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.”
Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian NGO, said the Chechnen men’s asylum status was now being publicised as local groups seek help to integrate them with Canadian society.
“We needed to be discreet about the program for as long as possible to maintain their safety,” said Mr. Powell. “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 news comes just weeks after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put on a characteristic show of support for equality after marching alongside Ireland’s first openly gay Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at Montreal Pride.
Since assuming office in November, Trudeau has promised to pardon those persecuted under historic anti-gay laws, appointed a special adviser on LGBT+ issues and even sent a personalised message to a gay man who received a homophobic Valentine’s Day card.