Canada should open its doors to LGBT people from Chechnya where dozens of men have been reported to be imprisoned and tortured because they are believed to be gay, a Canadian advocacy group says.
The call for emergency visas came from Rainbow Railroad which said it was working with a Russian non-profit group to help people flee Chechnya through a global network of safe routes.
"We're expanding our on-the-ground contacts as well as increasing our capacity to identify and assess new or alternative safe routes out of Chechnya," said Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, which helps LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people facing violence or death escape their countries.
Independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta has reported that up to 100 men have been thrown in secret prisons in Russia's southern region of Chechnya, and that some men have disappeared altogether.
A Kremlin spokesman told journalists on Thursday that the claims were groundless.
"These reports are distortion of reality, slander," said Dmitry Peskov in a conference call. "There are no such people."
But the United Nations has urged the abuses to end, and the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has called for Russia to investigate the reports.
Toronto-based Rainbow Railroad said it was formally requesting humanitarian or refugee visas from the Canadian government for those in danger.
A spokeswoman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: "We cannot speculate on any future policy."
Canada chooses whom it accepts as refugees by relying on the U.N. and others for referrals, she said.
The crackdown in Chechnya came after several cities in the North Caucasus, where the Chechen republic is located, sought permits to stage gay pride parades, Novaya Gazeta reported.
Same-sex sexual activity is a crime in some 70 countries but not in Russia, said Maria Sjödin, a spokeswoman for OutRight Action International, a New York City-based group that advocates for LGBT rights.
But a law limiting the dissemination of information on LGBT issues to young people has emboldened people to grow violent toward LGBT people, she said.
"On top of that, there are reports that police are not investigating," said Sjödin.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk. Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)