LGBTQ refugee group only able to resettle four per cent of Afghans, urges Ottawa help

The Canadian Press

Dylan Robertson The Canadian Press December 20 2022

LGBTQ refugee group Rainbow Railroad says it has only been able to resettle 4 per cent of the nearly 3,800 Afghans who have asked it for help since the Taliban took over their country.

The Toronto-based group documents persecution on the basis of Afghans’ gender identities and sexual orientations in a report it released Monday, arguing that Ottawa’s resettlement programs don’t account for those who can’t safely flee Afghanistan to neighbouring countries.

“A number of LGBTQIA+ people reported being beaten and subject to physical violence by the Taliban outside of detention settings, either in their homes during a search, or in public places,” reads the report.

“Rape and sexual violence were mentioned in many requests for help, including sexual assault by family and community members in an environment of impunity.”

Afghans reported to Rainbow Railroad that the Taliban searched their phones, identified them on social media and incentivized others to surveil and report on them.

During the roughly four-year period leading up to the Taliban takeover in August, 2021, the organization said it received just 144 requests for help.

Since the Taliban takeover, 3,797 people have asked the group for aid – but just 180 have reached Canada, with roughly 20 more expected to arrive around the end of this year.

The group has helped resettle another 67 people to places such as the United Kingdom and provided stipends for some Afghans living in other countries.

In June, a parliamentary committee called on Ottawa to “create a special immigration measure to urgently resettle at least 300 pre-identified LGBTQI+ Afghan refugees.”

Human Rights Watch reported last January that LGBTQ Afghans are being forced to reveal their former partners, and that those who flee to neighbouring countries are still at risk of arrest and persecution.

For years, Rainbow Railroad has asked Ottawa to create a dedicated pathway for LGBTQ people fleeing persecution to reach Canada, following a slew of pilot programs.

The group is now calling on Immigration Minister Sean Fraser to streamline the way the department assesses requests for help from minority groups.

They also want Canada to make it easier for people to seek resettlement – particularly Afghans who can’t find a safe way to a neighbouring country to file a claim.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did not immediately provide a response.

NDP foreign-affairs critic Heather McPherson said the government is failing its moral duty to protect those most at risk of Taliban persecution.

“It is horrifying. These are people that are at grave risk of losing their lives; these are some of the most vulnerable people in the world right now,” she said.

“Canada has an obligation. We have an ability to help and it’s immoral for us to not be doing more to help this community.”

She noted that the NDP reached out to the Liberals about the need to protect minorities as the U.S. announced in April, 2021, that it would pull out troops.

Canada has resettled 26,735 of the 40,000 Afghans it has pledged to bring to the country, as of Dec. 14.