Senior immigration authorities are grappling with how Canada can help gay men from Chechnya escape persecution — but they haven’t had any direct requests for resettlement, according to a Canadian senior official.

“It's something where we want to work discreetly, carefully, as cases arise,” David Manicom, the associate assistant deputy minister for the immigration department’s strategic and program policy, told Xtra on May 3, 2017.

Manicom’s comments came moments after addressing the House immigration committee about a separate resettlement program, though MPs asked him what Canada has done so far to bring gay men from the authoritarian Russian region to safety.

“We are working closely with our embassy in Moscow and other international partners, such that if urgent protection cases come to our attention, we would be able to respond appropriately,” Manicom told the committee. “We have not had any cases identified to us at this time.”

On April 18, the Toronto-based group Rainbow Railroad asked the federal government to create a program to evacuate gay Chechens, such as giving them emergency visas so they could get to Canada, make an asylum claim here and have a refugee hearing.

Manicom told Xtra that diplomats in Moscow are in touch with local groups and aware of safe houses in Russia for gay Chechens, but said that no one’s come forward with a formal request for getting to Canada. 

“We can’t reach out and put them on a plane to Canada in any obvious way,” Manicom says. Senior officials worry about exacerbating the problem in Chechnya, he adds, because everyone leaving Russia faces questioning at a border post.

“If they go to the airport with a Canadian document and they’re refused exit, would we actually be helping the community?” Manicom asks. 

He also suggests that Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov could retaliate. “[If] Canada decides to embarrass him internationally, do we help those individuals? Or does he, say, stop torturing them and put a bullet to the back of their head? And I’m not speaking melodramatically.”

And though Manicom says Canada could resettle some gay Chechen men, people from the region require extra screening, he says. 

“Chechnya's an extraordinarily nasty place. No one would want to bring individuals from Chechnya without a very careful security screening,” he says. “We want to bring the victims, not the perpetrators.”

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