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Group urges Feds to help rescue LGBTQ2S + Afghanistan refugees

A charity that helps LGBTQ2S+ refugees facing violence and discrimination around the world is calling on the Canadian government to work with them to provide an outlet for the hundreds of Afghans who have reached out. they are in despair.

Rainbow Railroad, a Toronto-based charity, appealed to the Canadian government earlier this week to help them create a streamlined process to bring in LGBTQ2S+ refugees from Afghanistan, where intimacy Homosexuality is illegal.

The organization says it has identified at least 300 LGBTQ2S+ Afghans who want to escape, fearing they could face violence – or even death – if their gender or gender identity known to the Taliban.

Kimahli Powell, CEO of Rainbow Railroad, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview that the situation is critical.

“What we are seeing is family members handing their children over to the Taliban,” he said. “In some cases, Taliban-friendly sexual partners have exposed individuals.

“The conditions for LGBTQI+ people are really precarious.”

In a press release and petition posted on Tuesday, Rainbow Railroad said that more than 3,300 LGBTQ2S+ Afghans have been in contact with them since mid-August.

“We have a team of at least 300 people that we have verified through our process and who are ready for relocation,” said Powell, adding that they work with organizations in the real world. sites to “help us identify and categorize people for resettlement.”

They are asking the government to enter into a direct referral partnership with them so they can “create more targeted and rapid resettlement pathways for high-risk LGBTQ2S + Afghanistan refugees and more broadly.” is for LGBTQ2S+ refugees from around the world,” the statement stated.

“The Government of Canada and Prime Minister Trudeau have the opportunity, authority and historical precedent needed to expedite the resettlement and assist vulnerable LGBTQI+ individuals,” Powell said in the statement. “It has implemented an emergency program to assist Ukrainian civilians at risk of conflict. A similar program will provide emergency help to LGBTQI + Afghans affiliated with Rainbow Railroad.”

To promote their message, the organization has launched a petition called #SafeWayOut reiterating the call for support from the government, with the goal of reaching 50,000 signatures before the start of Pride Month.

Rainbow Railroad alone has helped 236 Afghans resettle or begin the resettlement process to date, a number that does not include the 300 people urgently awaiting aid.

The charity, which was started in 2006 on a volunteer basis and ramped up operations in 2013 and 2015 after achieving charity status, received around 8,000 requests for help last year and is on the way. momentum to receive 10,000 requests by 2022.

Since its founding, the charity has helped more than 1,200 displaced people get somewhere safe to be themselves, and has provided other support to about 2,000 people, Powell said.

“We can resettle and resettle up to 200 people a year,” he told CTVNews.ca. “That’s just a fraction of the number of help requests we receive.”

With support from the government, they can refer and help more people, Powell said, especially when they are living in hard-to-reach parts of the world.

“These people are now in a country that criminalizes same-sex intimacy,” he said. “We’ve identified them, they’ve been through a process and now we need to hear from the government what they’re going to do to provide safe passage for them.”

Even before the Taliban regained power last summer, Afghanistan was not safe for LGBTQ2S+ people.

In 2018, Afghanistan officially passed a new law that explicitly criminalizes homosexual intimacy between people of the same sex. Sentences range from imprisonment to a maximum of death if Sharia law is enforced.

But reports suggest that after the Taliban takeover, things have gotten significantly worse for the LGBTQ2S+ community, with the threat of deadly violence suddenly close to home.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and OutRight Action International interviewed 60 LGBTQ2S+ people in Afghanistan after the Taliban returned to power. The report, “Even If You Go to the Skies, We will Find You,” was released in January and paints a horrifying picture of life in this country for LGBTQ2S+ people right now. Interviewees reported being attacked, sexually assaulted and directly threatened by the Taliban. Those who had escaped the harsh violence until then still reported living on eggshells, often worried that they might be reported.

“I was living with my family when the Taliban arrived,” a transgender person interviewed by HRW said in the report. “My father said now you have to wear girls’ clothes and marry a man. So I had to escape”.

An 18-year-old interviewed for this report used to work as a makeup artist at a salon for LGBTQ2S+ relatives in Kabul, but went into hiding when the Taliban took over. His mother warned him that his father was using Taliban resources to hunt him down.

Others interviewed said they fled after hearing that some of their gay friends had been killed, which they believe were targeted killings by the Taliban.

“Most interviewees believe that the only way to their safety is to move to a country with better protection for LGBT people’s rights, but so far very few LGBT Afghans fleeing Afghanistan is known to have reached a safe country,” the report states.

These reports echo what Rainbow Railroad has heard from people seeking their help.

People can be raided into homes without warning, Powell said, and if non-traditional clothing is found – even just clothing deemed too Western-style – the homeowner could be arrested. suspected of being LGBTQ2S+ and “subject to searches where that intimate partner would be exposed and then possibly subject to violence, for example. ”

While many Afghan refugees have been able to leave Afghanistan on their own, they may be stranded in neighboring countries that may also discriminate against LGBTQ2S+ people. For many people, coming to Canada is the light at the end of the tunnel.

And although the asylum process is complicated and Canada has fallen behind in its goal of accepting Afghan refugees who previously worked with the Canadian military or had ties to Canada, Rainbow Railroad believes the partnership can streamline things for LGBTQ2S+ people who have been waiting for an exit.

“The government has demonstrated on various occasions that it has the ability to be agile and flexible in its programs to help resettle refugees,” said Powell, noting that the government acted quickly to create favorable conditions for bringing Ukrainian refugees to Canada for temporary settlement.

He said that although they had had some contact with the government before, such as a meeting with Immigration Minister Sean Fraser in April, they were hopeful that this new call for cooperation would lead to action. more clearly from the government side.

“We’re not just advocating, we’re doing, and so we’ve directly facilitated and supported individuals,” Powell said. “And what we are looking for is a commitment. Our commitment to resettle these people will allow us to be an effective partner in providing safe shelter and relocation assistance so they can stay safe.

“We just ask the government and the public to remember that there is an LGBTQI+ group, who care about the government, that is in danger and we just want to help facilitate a safe exit, and we do. need help from the Canadian government”.

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