A Toronto-based charity said Friday it has helped 35 LGBT individuals escape from Chechnya, 31 of whom have now arrived in Canada.
"We have been working on a program with the Canadian government that allowed the entry of persecuted LGBTQ Chechens into the country," Rainbow Railroad executive director Kimahli Powell told CBC News.
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Powell said his organization — which he says has helped 140 LGBT people escape places of persecution so far this year — teamed up with the Russian LGBT Network, who he says established safehouses and communication channels for people in Chechnya wanting to flee. He said Rainbow Railroad handled the evacuations.
In April, allegations of killings, torture and illegal detentions of LGBT individuals in the Russian republic prompted condemnation from human rights groups and the Canadian government, with Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland calling the reports of violence and discrimination "reprehensible."
Powell said the Canadian government played "a major role" in the development of the program.
He said he went to Russia in May to meet with LGBT people seeking asylum and established a partnership with Ottawa.
"We began immediate conversations with [LGBTQ2] Special Adviser Randy Boissonnault and began conversations with Global Affairs Canada," he said, adding both Freeland and Minister of Immigration Ahmed Hussen were interested in the program.
Powell did not disclose the nature of the evacuations or the extent of the government's involvement.
"So far, we are pleased with this partnership," he said. "But we expect this is not the end."
Powell said there are about 40 Chechens still in safehouses waiting to leave Russia, and that his organization is also shifting focus to help the refugees resettle.
"Canada remains the best and safest option for many of the individuals," he said.
Founded in 2006, Rainbow Railroad says on its website that its mission is to "seek safe haven from state-enabled violence, murder or persecution" of LGBT people.