It’s been several months since reports began surfacing that gay and bisexual men were being rounded up and tortured in Chechnya, and now, the Toronto-based group Rainbow Railroad has released a video statement announcing that the group has helped 31 of the persecuted men escape to Canada.
The group’s Executive Director Kimahli Powell detailed the group’s work to provide emergency visas and travel arrangements to Canada.
“We were able to quickly intervene and receive a response from the Canadian government because we are one of the few — if only — major international organizations focused on moving LGBTQ people out of immediate danger to safety,” Powell said on Facebook Live on Friday.
Powell also said that the group’s efforts were kept undercover for safety’s sake. “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.”
But the Rainbow Railroad wasn’t working alone. The group worked with Chrystia, Freeland, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, who said that the country hoped to be a beacon for other countries to follow, according to The Independent.
Earlier this year Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the persecution of gay and bi men in Chechnya.
“In Canada and around the world, we must continue to fight against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia, and to defend gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation rights,” Trudeau said in a speech on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. “We deplore the recent, reprehensible reports of violations of the human rights of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya. We call for the protection of all people in Chechnya whose sexual orientation makes them a target for persecution. Human rights have no borders.”
Following a horrifying interview on HBO in July with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who asserted that queer people don’t exist in his country, before adding, "They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert called the remarks “very concerning and also upsetting.” Still, it wasn’t enough to spur Donald Trump or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to go on record and finally condemn the persecution in Chechnya, as they have remained completely silent regarding the horrors.
Rainbow Railroad reported that 70 people have escaped camps in Chechnya to Russian safe houses so far, and the group has been in touch with 140 people seeking asylum.
Still, the work does not end there. “They are so young [the refugees], were torn away from their homes, education and employment, and do not speak English,” Powell said. “They are going to need a community.”
Watch Powell's statement below.