Refugee group says Ottawa will help bring 600 LGBTQ Afghans to Canada

The Canadian Press

Dylan Robertson The Canadian Press December 22 2022

An LGBTQ refugee group says Ottawa is helping resettle to Canada 600 Afghans who are fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Earlier this week, Toronto-based Rainbow Railroad said it has only been able to resettle four per cent of the nearly 3,800 Afghans who have asked the organization for help coming to Canada since the Taliban took over their country.

The organization complained that Ottawa’s resettlement programs don’t account for Afghans who are persecuted on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and who often can’t safely flee to neighbouring countries.

But Rainbow Railroad says Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has since pledged to help resettle 600 LGBTQ Afghans, on top of the 180 who have already reached Canada and the 20 or so expected to arrive around the end of this year.

The Immigration Department would not confirm the move, citing security risks, but says it facilitates the resettlement of specific groups with stakeholders such as Rainbow Railroad.

“We continue to explore all avenues and maximize every opportunity to bring Afghans to Canada as quickly and safely as possible,” department spokesman Jeffrey MacDonald said in an e-mailed statement.

It’s unclear when the 600 would arrive.

The department says it is “unwavering” in its pledge to resettle 40,000 Afghans by the end of 2023. As of Dec. 14, 26,735 had arrived.

“Canada’s humanitarian program focuses on resettling Afghan nationals who don’t have a durable solution in a third country, which includes 2SLGBTQI+ individuals,” another department spokesman, David Tuck, said in an e-mail.

The department has funded LGBTQ refugee groups and worked with them to help people claim refugee status through the United Nations process, but Rainbow Railroad has said that the arrangement is inadequate and doesn’t work quickly enough.

Human-rights groups have reported an alarming rise in physical assaults, sexual violence and systemic targeting of LGBTQ people in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in August 2021.