A Chechen gay man has escaped Russia without harm and made his way across the French border, according to Joël Deumier, president of the LGBTQ organization SOS Homophobie. “The first gay Chechen refugee arrived on French land,” he said.
His arrival is a sign of hope for the hundreds of gay and bisexual Chechen men who have been herded into facilities that activists say are similar to concentration camps. Because of their sexual orientation, human rights activists say they’ve been tortured with beatings and even electrocution.
Chechen officials have been incredibly brazen in their denial of such statements – despite reports from news outlets and activist groups in the region – even going so far as to say LGBQT people don’t exist in Chechnya.
Chechnya has a mostly Muslim population, with the topic of homosexuality being so taboo that families with a gay or bisexual relative are expected to perform “honor killings” under sharia law. “If my family knew that I was gay, they would have killed me long ago,” Nokhcho, who wanted to use a pseudonym, told NBC. “The family itself would kill me. Being openly gay is impossible for us.”
France’s newly-elected president, Emmanuel Macron, has been open about the country welcoming Syrian refugees and taking steps to better integrate them into the culture. The same day the first Chechen refugee made his way into France, Macron met with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Versailles and had strong criticism for his failure to take action on the Chechen persecution.
“We spoke about the cases of LGBT people in Chechnya,” Macron said during a press conference. “I told President Putin what France is expecting regarding this issue, and we agreed to regularly check on this subject.”
Macron added that Putin told him he took steps to establish the truth of any reported activities by local Chechen officials, but did not go into detail regarding what those steps entailed. This falls in sharp contrast to what Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the press earlier this week, denying any basis of truth in reports about the persecution of gay men in the region. “There is not a single concrete fact, there are no surnames,” Lavrov said. “If there are facts, if there are surnames, then our answers will be concrete.”
While France’s president as well as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have been outspoken about condemning the issue, the U.S. president has remained mostly quiet. While the Trump administration hasn’t publicly denied any visas as of yet, the U.S. has not offered any travel visas to threatened Chechen men. A spokesperson for Russia’s LGBT network who wished to remain anonymous told Buzzfeed: “We were informed there was no political will. They’re not going to provide visas. They’re going to support us in other ways, but not with visas.”