Mr. Chair and honourable committee members, thank you for the invitation to speak. My name is Kimahli Powell, and I am the executive director of Rainbow Railroad, an international organization based in Canada and the United States that supports LGBTQI+ people facing persecution based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics.
I am pleased to be invited to speak today, given the urgent nature of our work in crisis in Afghanistan as well as other parts of the world and given that this is the last of the committee meetings. I personally went to Ottawa to deliver my remarks only to have it cancelled, so I really appreciate having this opportunity, because this really is a life-and-death situation. I would also like to concur with my colleague Ms. Meighen on her four recommendations.
Rainbow Railroad provides direct support to individuals in need and partners with organizations and human rights defenders worldwide. We facilitate emergency evacuations for individuals facing persecution and violence. To date we have helped nearly 1,200 people resettle in countries all around the world, but that is not enough in terms of the need. This year alone we anticipate 10,000 requests for help, many of them in Afghanistan.
Part of what causes displacement for our communities is that in 70 countries around the world, LGBTQI+ persons are criminalized by laws that criminalize same-sex intimacy. Afghanistan is one of those countries.
On August 13 the government announced “a special program to focus on particularly vulnerable groups that are already welcomed to Canada through existing resettlement streams, including women leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, persecuted religious minorities [and] LGBTI individuals”. After that statement, requests for help from LGBTQI+ Afghans spiked dramatically. Understanding that statement to mean that Canada would evacuate LGBTQI+ persons, over 4,500 Afghans have reached out to us for urgent assistance. Because we are a leader in evacuating this population and have worked with the Canadian government before, many assumed that we would be working with the government to refer individuals for resettlement. That has not happened, despite our demonstrated expertise and international presence.
We worked with OutRight Action International and Human Rights Watch, two partners of the Canadian government, to detail a report describing the persecution that this community faces, including beatings, surveillance, having their identity documents burned, having their families threatened, and being imprisoned over their identities. I went to the region twice and witnessed first-hand the trauma faced by those who managed to flee. We were among the first NGOs to facilitate safe passage out of Afghanistan in a partnership that brought LGBTQI+ Afghans to the United Kingdom. We also facilitated the creation of emergency safe houses in neighbouring countries—countries that, it should be noted, also criminalize same-sex intimacy.
I will put my remarks in short. Too many Afghans remain at risk and need resettlement. LGBTQI+ Afghans need a direct safe way out, and Canada must provide it. Globally we have seen a rise in geopolitical crises. The situation in Ukraine demonstrates that, when needed, Canada has the tools available to help people at risk. A similar program in Ukraine could directly benefit Afghans right now. We actually have a direct referral partnership with the United States that would result in 200 LGBTQI+ Afghans resettling in Canada. As a Canadian organization, we believe there's an opportunity to partner directly with the Canadian government to provide a pathway to safety for these individuals.
It is in that spirit that I want to conclude with two crucial policies that would make an immediate difference in the lives of thousands of LGBTQI+ Afghans.
First, I encourage the committee to urge the Minister of Immigration to use their authority under section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to create a public policy to urgently resettle at least 300 pre-identified LGBTQI+ Afghans as government-assisted refugees. There are at least 300 ready-to-travel Afghans in our queue who are ready and in need of help.
Second, I ask the committee to urge the Government of Canada to make Rainbow Railroad a direct referring partner to allow us to pursue targeted responses for the most vulnerable cases of LGBTQI+ persons of Afghanistan, Ukraine and beyond for resettlement. This was recently asked of the minister in this committee, and that is what I am calling for today. Partner with civil society organizations that have expertise to help Afghans resettle in Canada.
Right now there are too many people waiting. With this committee's support, we could bring more people to Canada.