In this memorandum, we draw on our extensive work in Afghanistan since the end of August to provide a briefing on the security emergency facing the country’s LGBTQI+ population, outline why this emergency requires immediate intervention, and provide a pathway forward.
Following the withdrawal of Allied forces from Afghanistan in August 2021, the country underwent a major regime change as the Taliban seized control of key state institutions. Civilians fear for their basic safety as the Taliban has arbitrarily arrested, attacked, tortured, and killed vulnerable Afghans. LGBTQI+ Afghans report being threatened, attacked, and sexually assaulted by the Taliban, as well as experiencing abuse from family members, neighbours, and romantic partners who believed they had to take action against them to ensure their own safety.
On August 13, 2021, the Canadian government committed to creating 20,000 resettlement slots for “vulnerable Afghans threatened by the Taliban and forced to flee Afghanistan.” The announcement explicitly named LGBTQI+ persons. As the only organization in the world providing this support for LGBTQI+ persons on a regular basis, and as a Canadian organization, we received an immediate spike in requests for assistance and inquiries about this program since the announcement — we have been managing these requests and expectations since then. This is a crucial reason why we are requesting a closer partnership with the government, to help meet the increased demand triggered by the government’s public commitments. On September 27, 2021, the number of settlement slots was doubled to 40,000.
On December 16, 2021, the Prime Minister’s mandate letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs drew specific attention to the need to “expand Canada’s efforts to advance gender equality and LGBTQ2 rights abroad,” and further highlights Canada’s role in upholding global SOGIESC rights through the government’s commitments in Afghanistan. Additionally, the Prime Minister’s letter to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship makes clear that facilitating the urgent resettlement of “at least 40,000” vulnerable refugees—including LGBTQI+ people—is a priority for the Canadian government. The Mandate letter to the Minister of International Development also emphasizes advancing global LGBTQI+ rights through partnership with civil society, as well as continuing Canada’s humanitarian efforts for Afghans.
Our proposal presents the Government of Canada with the opportunity to work with an international civil society organization that advances gender equality and the rights of LGBTQI+ people globally in an effort to facilitate the relocation of 40,000 vulnerable Afghan refugees.
We ask the government to partner with Rainbow Railroad through the special humanitarian resettlement stream and/or activate Section 25 of the IRPA to expedite the immediate resettlement of 300 triaged, high-risk LGBTQI+ Afghans.
Currently, the government is fulfilling its resettlement commitment through two special immigration programs: one for Afghans who contributed to Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan and another for vulnerable Afghans, including women leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, persecuted religious minorities, LGBTQI+ individuals, and family members of previously resettled interpreters.
As of February 1, 2022, 2,920 Afghans have arrived in Canada under the special program for vulnerable groups.11 The delays in the full implementation of Canada’s special resettlement program for vulnerable Afghans is particularly dire for LGBTQI+ persons, who continue to face a high risk of violence and death by state and non-state actors both in-country and in neighbouring countries. LGBTQI+ Afghan refugees supported by Rainbow Railroad in countries bordering Afghanistan are frequently confined to safe houses and are unable to move freely due to basic risks to their safety in displacement. Local integration is thus not a viable or durable solution for most LGBTQI+ Afghan refugees in the region; urgent resettlement remains the only practical solution for these individuals. We urge the Government of Canada to take additional measures to avoid loss of life and further egregious human rights abuses.
You can read more about the full memorandum here, or access it below.