The Advocate July/Aug 2022
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Under Trump, U.S. Is No Refuge for LGBTQ Chechens

Checnen protest

Donald Trump’s administration is continuing to largely ignore the persecution of LGBTQ people in Chechnya and is even making it harder for victims to find safe haven in the U.S., activists say.

In the two years since the purge was initially reported, no LGBTQ Chechen has received asylum in the U.S., The Daily Beast notes. This is despite the fact that hundreds of them have been arrested and tortured, and several killed, in Chechnya, a semiautonomous republic within Russia.

“If you are from Chechnya, the horrible things that are happening in that area of Russia warrant a pretty strong asylum claim,” Aaron Morris, executive director of Immigration Equality, told the site. “But they’re changing how hard it is to get your day in court.”

For one thing, under a new policy, the U.S. government schedules asylum hearings within three weeks of when someone enters the country on a visa, the Beast reports. “You have three weeks to prepare a dossier on the worst things that have ever happened to you, and learn how to present this case in a cogent, coherent and compelling manner,” said Geoff Kagan-Trenchard, an attorney with the New York City Anti-Violence Project. “This is quite a lift to ask of people.”

Also, since Trump became president, many immigration judges have taken on a hostile attitude toward asylum-seekers, Kagan-Trenchard said. “There’s been a definite increase in aggressiveness in the tone and harshness of asylum hearings,” he said.

And the administration’s homophobic and transphobic policies, such as its ban on military service by transgender people, have made some Chechens reluctant to seek asylum on the basis of anti-LGBTQ persecution. “They are afraid even to go forward,” Morris told the Beast. “Any time the president of the United States says something horrendously disparaging about transgender identity, it’s a struggle to convince individuals that you have a fundamental right — a human right — to be who you are, no matter what this president says.”

Add to that Trump’s cozy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “The Trump administration trying to ease Russian sanctions just reinforces the ‘impunity’ impression for thugs behind the Chechen terror,” Ukrainian journalist Maxim Eristavi told the site.

The U.S. State Department has made some generalized statements calling for Russia to investigate the abuse of LGBTQ Chechens, but has been vague about what pressure, if any, it is applying to Russia. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who denies that LGBTQ people in the republic are being persecuted or even that they exist, has strong support from Russia.

Russian officials claimed last spring that an investigation had turned up no credible evidence of an anti-LGBTQ purge. But a probe by an international group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, found ample evidence that the purge is going on and that Russia is allowing it.

Amid reports of renewed arrests and at least two deaths in the past two months, the Russian LGBT Network has demanded a new investigation by Russia’s Investigative Committee, reports Meduza, an English-language news site on Russian affairs.

The network has released the name of one of those arrested, Bekkhan Yusupov, who had received asylum in France but was visiting his family in Chechnya. It also supplied the Investigative Committee with information relating to the killing of a Russian citizen by Chechen law enforcement officers this month.

Meanwhile, protesters in London draped an enormous rainbow flag over the Russian embassy to protest the antigay atrocities in Chechnya.

Today, 65 members of the U.S. House called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to condemn the anti-LGBTQ violence in Chechnya and pressure Russia to stop it. The bipartisan group was led by Democrats David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Eric Swalwell of California, and Republican Lee Zeldin of New York.

“The U.S. is a beacon of hope and freedom for the world, as it stands up for the dignity and human rights of all people everywhere,” the representatives wrote in a letter to Pompeo. “This situation is no different. It is incumbent on you to reaffirm these principles and publicly condemn violence against the LGBT community in Chechnya, and to utilize all of the tools available to you to pressure the Russian government into ending these atrocities.”

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