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Lithuania Opens Door to Gay Chechens Fleeing Persecution, While U.S. Slams It Shut

Survivors of prison camps in Russia are looking for some place to go.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
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Gay Russian men are attempting to flee their country amid a wave of detention, torture, and killing in the country’s southern region of Chechnya. Now Lithuania has become one of the first countries to grant two of those persecuted refuge, while the United States denied their visa requests.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told Baltic News Service Wednesday that Lithuania granted visas to “two natives of Chechnya who suffered persecution because of their sexual orientation." He called on other European Union countries to follow suit.

Lithuania made the announcement on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, an annual observance to raise awareness of violence and discrimination against LGBTI people.

Gay Russian men are attempting to flee their country amid a wave of detention, torture, and killing in the country’s southern region of Chechnya. Now Lithuania has become one of the first countries to grant two of those persecuted refuge, while the United States denied their visa requests.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told Baltic News Service Wednesday that Lithuania granted visas to “two natives of Chechnya who suffered persecution because of their sexual orientation.” He called on other European Union countries to follow suit.

Lithuania made the announcement on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, an annual observance to raise awareness of violence and discrimination against LGBTI people.

While Lithuania opened itself to those fleeing persecution, the United States slammed its own door shut. On Wednesday, Buzzfeed News reported the State Department denied visas to gay Chechens fleeing persecution, even while LGBTI groups in Russia frantically search for ways to get them out of the country.

The Russia LGBT Network said there are still about 40 survivors of Chechen prison camps currently in hiding and trying to flee the country.

The Chechen government, run by controversial strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, vehemently denied reports his government was rounding up gay men in prison camps. Still, Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on May 11 to investigate the reports amid a firestorm of international outrage.

However, after Israeli press covered the issue extensively, the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv released a statement the same day of Putin’s announcement suggesting the investigation was already over and nothing happened. “There are no victims of persecution, threats or violence,” the statement, sent to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, read. It went on to call the reports “the excuse for the beginning of a propaganda campaign against Russia around the world.”

Independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta first reported the imprisonment and abuse of gay Chechens in April.

While the reports drew widespread condemnation, including sharp rebuke from U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, the White House was conspicuously quiet on the matter. The White House gave no indication the issue came up during President Donald Trump’s now infamous meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on May 10, and said it was “not aware” if Trump was even briefed on the issue.

Photo credit: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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