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Over the last year, a Toronto-based organization called Rainbow Railroad has secretly worked with the Canadian government to help 31 queer people flee the ongoing anti-LGBTQ violence in the semi-autonomous Russian region of Chechnya. But apparentlt Russia isn’t happy about it.
In an e-mail to the Canadian publication The Globe and Mail, Kirill Kalinin, a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Ottawa, wrote that if his country or its associates detect and prove any “legal irregularities” regarding the Russian-Canadian underground railroad, they “shall be duly investigated.”
However, Kalinin refused to comment on the suspected irregularities or the means of investigation, stating, “We do not comment on media reports citing anonymous official ‘sources.'”
The media report Kalinin is referring to may be a foreign affairs article that The Globe and Mail published late last week citing “a government official speaking on background.” The anonymous official said that the Canadian government had been reluctant to publicly acknowledge their secret acceptance of Chechen refugees for fear of backlash or endangering those involved.
“We needed to be discreet about the program for as long as possible to maintain their safety,” said Rainbow Railroad’s Executive Director Kimahli 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.”
According to the report, Canada has been accepting Chechen refugees since June 2017. The Russian LGBT Network, a non-governmental organization operating in Russia, has helped over 50 Chechen individuals flee to safe houses in Moscow and other Russian cities. However, even there they remain vulnerable to violence from Chechen officials and hostile family members.
One trans Chechen, for instance, was harassed by angry family members and outed on social media by Chechen officials after she left Chechnya. So, the Rainbow Railroad has helped transport the relocated Chechen refugees to Canada where they can work and live in safety.
Although the secret program has been spearheaded by Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, its work may actually “fall outside the conventions of international law and could further impair already tense relations between Russia and Canada,” according to The Globe and Mail.
“Canada accepted a large number of people who are in great danger, and that is wonderful,” said Tanya Lokshina, the Russian program director of 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.”
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