'They are in critical need': Campaign urges action to help those fleeing anti-LGBT violence in Chechnya

A community hub for LGBT people in Winnipeg is urging world leaders, including the United Nations and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to intervene in the persecution of gay men in Chechnya.

On Saturday, Winnipeg's Rainbow Resource Centre is hosting a letter- and email-writing campaign to push for action after reports of the Russian republic detaining, torturing and killing gay and bisexual men.

"These people don't have weeks. They don't have months," said Bradley West, a community organizer for the event. 

"They don't have any resources. They don't have family support. In fact, many of them were released to their family to be murdered," he said.

"They are in critical need."

Reports from the area say between 100 and 200 men were rounded up and taken to prisons described as "concentration camps," and at least three were killed there.

West said that as a Jewish man, the reports were particularly terrifying to him.

"I was stunned. I couldn't believe that this was happening again, that we were watching a government targeting its citizens based on a piece of their identity again," he said.

West said at first there was a feeling of helplessness because the injustices were happening so far away, but he decided he needed to act. Along with other members of the Winnipeg LGBT community, West organized Saturday's campaign to raise awareness locally and help pressure the federal government to act.

Its goal is also to let gay people in Chechnya know they are not alone and "this is not happening in silence," he said.

"We see them. We know who they are. That they are not alone and that we see them and we see what is happening, and we will speak out against it in whatever way we can," he said.

For Rainbow Resource Centre education program coordinator Muhammad Ahsan, the reports coming out of Chechnya, which is a predominantly Muslim country, were horrific but also stoked worries of Islamophobia from the international community.

"Having a gay family member is assumed to be a bad name to the whole extended family so there are some fears of honour killings as well. Myself, coming from a Muslim family, for me it has effects that are longer for the family," Ahsan said.

"But not all the Muslim-identified individuals in Canada associate with any of these extremist elements."

Canada has a moral responsibility to help the gay men in Chechnya who are "being prosecuted for something they don't have any control over," Ahsan said.

"We are in a much better and much stronger situation and a safe position to extend our support and raise our voices," he said.

The Liberal government has faced calls to do more from other parties. Conservative MP Michelle Rempel told CBC News on Thursday that there's no reason the federal government can't act quickly to provide asylum to the Chechens.

"It's always scary to hear that gays are being put in concentration camps again," said Winnipeg filmmaker Noam Gonick. He was at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, to make his documentary film To Russia with Love, which followed the journey of LGBT athletes at the Games.

"If the state is sanctioning the rounding up and killing of gays then that's pretty scary stuff."

But Gonick said he wasn't entirely surprised to hear the reports.

"When we went to the UN when we were shooting To Russia with Love, one of the activists there … said that when the Olympics were gone, the spotlight is off of Sochi and people weren't looking at Russia, then things were going to get worse, and that's what they were scared about," Gonick said.

"I guess that was three years ago now, and so I'm thinking she was right."

Starting at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Winnipeggers were invited to the Rainbow Resource Centre to write their letters or emails.

The centre is also recommending people who want to help donate to the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, which they can do online.