Toronto's Rainbow Railroad Responds to Reports of a Gay Concentration Camp in Chechnya

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Toronto’s Rainbow Railroad Responds to Reports of a Gay Concentration Camp in Chechnya

Canada urged to take immediate action following reports of gay men being rounded up, tortured with electric shocks and beaten to death.

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Chechyan leader Ramzan Kadyrov. LGBT activists and journalists in Chechnya say gay men are being rounded up, tortured, electrocuted and beaten, and some even killed. The journalists who broke the story have gone into hiding. Photos via newnownext and diasp.org.

By now you may have read reports that nearly 100 men suspected of being gay or bisexual are being detained in Chechnya, in what is being called the first concentration camp since Nazi Germany.

You’ve also probably also heard that Chechnyan officials deny these claims because, according to them, LGBTQ people do not exist. “You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic,” Chechyan leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, is quoted as saying in response to the situation. “If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”

Rainbow Railroad has been following this story since it was reported on April 1. After reaching out to various international sources, the evidence suggests that LGBT people have been detained in unofficial prisons, where victims are being tortured and forced to disclose personal contacts of other gay men in Chechnya.

We reached out to the Russian LGBT Network—the key organization working in the region—who can confirm at least three murders so far.

There have been reports of violence and persecution of LGBTQ people in Chechnya in the past. This is a region with strong traditional religious and cultural customs. Gay men (or those perceived to be gay) being banished or murdered by family members (in so-called “honour” killings) has been an ongoing issue in the region. 

Rainbow Railroad will be partnering with the Russian LGBT Network to help people in Chechnya find safety. We will work together to identify people who need assistance, provide them with emotional and financial support, and ultimately provide the travel to a country where individuals can claim asylum.

This is the work that Rainbow Railroad does, all year-round, all over the globe. 

While the situation in Chechnya is devastating and demands a response, unfortunately, the ongoing persecution facing LGBTQ people in many other countries goes unnoticed.

According to International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’s 11th edition of Sponsored Homophobia 2016: A World Survey of Sexual Orientation Laws, 73 countries still have anti-homosexuality laws, and many more have other laws that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In too many countries around the world, LGBTQ people are routinely arrested, denied basic human rights, and are being brutally attacked, tortured, or even murdered.

Even more disturbing, the report cites 13 countries where same sex intimacy can be punishable by death.

The criminalization of same sex intimacy results in a hostile environment for many LGBTQ people internationally. They are rejected by their families, evicted from their homes, persecuted by their community, and regularly targeted by police. The result is a reality where gay men are fired from their jobs and are forced into sex work to survive. It is a reality where trans people face housing discrimination, homelessness, restricted access to education and employment, and regular threats of mob violence. It is a reality where lesbians experience violent “corrective” rape and other forms of sexual violence. It is a reality where people who are HIV-positive cannot get access essential healthcare for fear of being “outed” and exposed to further persecution.

There are a small number of brave human rights defenders and civil society groups fighting for LGBTQ rights in these countries, providing a lifeline for support. However, for those not able to get access to these organizations or other forms of community, life after being outed in their home country can be unbearable. For these individuals, leaving their home country can mean the difference between life and death.

That is where we come in. Rainbow Railroad is a registered charitable organization that provides support to LGBTQ individuals seeking a safe haven from state-sponsored or enabled violence. This includes airfare and financial support for travel related costs, including costs immediately before and after travel. Beyond direct financial assistance, Rainbow Railroad provides information and resources on how to make an asylum claim directly in safer countries or through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees resettlement process. 

Since our founding in 2006, we have travel for over 200 individuals—with a record 81 people travelling to safety in 2016, and 42 since January 2017.

Our goal is to help 100 people escape state-sanctioned violence by the end of 2017, including those in Chechnya and other countries around the world who need our help.

We have already gotten to work with Russian LGBT Network, identifying individuals who need help and determining how to get them to safety. This includes asking the Canadian government to provide direct assistance to LGBTQ people who need our help in Chechnya and other countries by way of emergency visas.

We’re a Canadian solution to a global problem, based right here in Toronto. As long as the atrocities facing LGBTQ people in Chechnya and other countries continue to exist, Rainbow Railroad will respond. This is an opportunity for Canadians—and our government—to respond as well.

All around the world, people are reaching out in solidarity with the people in Chechnya. Demonstrations are being planned, including tomorrow in Toronto at the Russian consulate. Governments are condemning the violence. People are wondering how they can help. These are all positive actions. But we should be concerned about the dangers facing LGBTQ people all over the world, that often occur without media attention.


Kimahli Powell is the executive director of Rainbow Railroad.

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