Last week a reader wondered, on Twitter, whether stories by John Ibbitson on Canada’s clandestine project to evacuate gay men from Russia to Canada “put gay Chechen refugees (or continuance of the program) at risk?”
It’s an important question.
Mr. Ibbitson first broke this story in early September with the news that for three months, the federal government had been evacuating gay Chechen men from Russia to Canada, a move that could damage relations between the two countries. About 22 are now in Canada.
In his first story, Mr. Ibbitson spoke to Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian NGO. “We needed to be discreet about the program for as long as possible to maintain their safety,” said Mr. Powell, whose Toronto-based organization offers support for LGBT people at risk in other countries. “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.”
I asked Mr. Ibbitson how the Chechen refugee story developed and here is his answer.
“When Human Rights Watch drew attention back in April to the Novaya Gazeta reports on gay Chechen men being detained and tortured, I wrote several columns describing the situation, and calling on the federal government to come to the aid of the men who were hiding in Russian safe houses. The government response was that there was little that Canada could do, because refugee policy required the men to leave Russia first. I considered that response inadequate, and said as much in a column.