LGBTQ2S+ group urges Canada to help resettle people trapped in their own country, including Afghanistan

Now that the federal election campaign has ended, it’s time for the government to get back to work, which includes refocusing on international aid and building partnerships with humanitarian organizations.

Among those organizations is Rainbow Railroad, an international charity based in Canada that provides pathways to safety for persecuted members of the LGBTQ2S+ community all over the world.

Due to the losses of three of his ministers on election day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be forced to shuffle his cabinet, which is expected to be followed by fresh mandate letters issued to each ministry.

Rainbow Railroad is pushing for the next letter sent to the immigration minister to include a mandate to establish a refugee stream for internally displaced members of the international LGBTQ2S+ community.

“We’ve long been making the case to this government and to all parliamentarians that LGBTQI+ people are uniquely vulnerable when they’re in their countries of persecution,” Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, told on Tuesday. “There are 70 countries that have criminalized same-sex intimacy, and those conditions create really dangerous contexts for this community.”

A number of countries have also criminalized the expression and gender identity of transgender people and the sex characteristics of intersex people.

There are over 84 million people around the world who have been displaced from their homes for a variety of reasons, including armed conflict, persecution, famine or other disasters, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. About half of them are “internally” displaced, meaning they’ve been displaced from their homes but have not crossed an international border seeking refuge.

Although there are programs, such as the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Partnership, that provide resettlement assistance to LGBTQ2S+ refugees who have been able to flee their country, there are still many people “who cannot, because of persecution, state-sponsored conflict or homophobia, cross land borders,” Powell said.

“Rainbow Railroad fields roughly three to four thousand requests per year, and the vast majority who come to us for help are internally displaced persons (IDPs),” he said. “This policy will allow us to identify people at acute risk who are in need of support, because if the Government of Canada really, as it has stated, wants to be a leader in LGBTQI+ rights globally, understanding the needs of this population is crucial.”

Asked for the reason existing resettlement programs first require refugees to flee their country, the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada told “A legal framework enabling the systematic and ongoing resettlement of IDPs does not presently exist under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Canada’s Resettlement Program is aligned with international practices that focus on the resettlement of refugees outside their home country. By definition, in international and domestic law, a refugee must be outside of their country of origin or habitual residence.”

Rainbow Railroad has tabled three recommendations for the federal government to enable the resettlement of internally displaced LGBTQ2S+ people.

The first is to make it a part of the next immigration minister’s mandate to implement a dedicated resettlement stream for internally displaced LGBTQ2S+ people, which includes a crisis response plan for those who need immediate help in emergency situations.

“Afghanistan is a perfect example of why we need a crisis response plan,” Powell said. There have been reports of violence against the LGBTQ2S+ community with members saying they are being hunted down now that the Taliban have taken control of the country. “We had requests for help prior to the fall of Kabul.”

Between the fall of the capital and the Aug. 31 withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, Rainbow Railroad provided support to 200 people who reached out seeking evacuation. That number has since grown to 700, Powell said.

“We have been actively working with other NGOs in Afghanistan and identifying people at risk, providing immediate support to people at risk and providing evacuation support,” he said.

The second recommendation made by the organization is to extend existing policy mechanisms to support displaced people and refugees, including the prioritization of LGBTQ2S+ asylum seekers. For example, Powell said the government could expand the Urgent Protection Program, which expedites the resettlement process for refugees whose lives are in immediate danger, to include those who are internally displaced as the program currently only applies to those who have crossed an international border.

The government can also issue more “temporary residence permits, or have the new minister use their authority to help people get into Canada,” he said. “Those are all tools that the Government of Canada has at their disposal right now.”

The immigration ministry acknowledged the existence of mechanisms to help internally displaced populations in emergency situations.

“To respond to unique circumstances faced by a specific population, a public policy can be implemented to enable the resettlement of IDPs as a life-saving measure,” the ministry said, citing a temporary humanitarian policy put in place in 2017 to resettle ISIS survivors, particularly women and children in Northern Iraq. “While there is no systematic or ongoing resettlement of IDPs, the Government of Canada currently provides support to IDPs typically through development programs that are funded through Global Affairs Canada.”

The third recommendation made by Rainbow Railroad is to establish a formal partnership with Rainbow Railroad to support the identification, processing and resettling of LGBTQ2S+ refugees.

“We have already been doing the work of identifying people at extreme risk,” Powell said. “We also have the tools to help support evacuation efforts.”

Powell is hopeful the new government will be receptive to his organization’s recommendations and be willing to work together to provide safety to displaced and persecuted members of the LGBTQ2S+ community.

“One of the things that was encouraging is that all the parties committed to some degree of support to LGBTQI+ refugees and persons,” he said of the latest federal election campaign. “We have clear expectations on what the next government needs to do, and we intend to work with the government and hold them accountable to supporting LGBTQI+ people who are displaced.”

With files from writer Christy Somos 

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