On Chechnya: Why England (and America) Sleeps

Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, a Putin ally, denies gay men exist in his country — so that he can continue rounding up, torturing, and killing them. | KREMLIN.RU

You may be wondering what the problem is with assisting Chechen gay men at risk of being killed. It seems as though saving the lives of people who are in imminent danger of being murdered would be a universal obligation of every civilized country.

But no.

As Amy Mackinnon writes on CNN.com, “If one of these men were to knock on the door of the US Embassy in Moscow and ask for asylum, he would likely be turned away… While the United States — and the 148 other countries that have signed international refugee conventions — is bound to assist those facing persecution, these conventions only apply to asylum seekers who have already reached American soil. There is no obligation to assist those who are trapped in their country of origin by the red tape of visa applications. It is a problem that is by no means unique to the United States or the experience of LGBT Russians. It is why thousands of refugees have risked their lives to cross the Mediterranean in the hopes of making it to the shores of Europe, where they can claim asylum. Without a European visa, flying is simply not an option.”


Oh, that makes sense. One hundred forty-nine countries (including ours) sign a document obliging them to assist refugees, but this obligation doesn’t extend to the vast majority of refugees, even those who are facing violent oppression, torture, and death at home. That’s why they’ve got to cross the Mediterranean in ragtag rafts; that’s why they’ve got to make their way out of Chechnya to that beacon of hope for Chechen gay men — Putin’s rotten, anti-gay Russia proper — and hope to God they can sneak around avoiding straight Chechens who might rat them out at the very least or perform that noble public service called “honor killing” in which family members or friends do the men’s insanely humiliated family a big favor by gunning them down in the street or, in the case of one 17-year-old boy, throwing him off a 12th story roof to his death.

Kudos to CNN.com for publishing Mackinnon’s story, but exactly why did CNN’s editors see the need to include this preposterous preamble?: “The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone.” What? This is not controversial material, fellas. Emma Lazarus didn’t amend “The New Colossus” to read: “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free — except the gay ones.”

Mackinnon continues: “It is a plight that I have seen firsthand. Between 2015 and 2016, I spent six months reporting on LGBT rights in Russia, and much of that time was spent following the story of Vika, a transsexual woman from Siberia. Ostracized by her family and discriminated against by potential employers, Vika lives an isolated life in total poverty. ‘I am an alien here. To everyone and to the government as well,’ she once told me. Vika is desperate to leave Russia and claim asylum in Canada. If she was wealthy or had a job that enabled her to travel, getting a visa would be straightforward. But as a truck driver from Siberia, Vika is stranded.”

Wait — there’s more.

“There is also precedent for the United States to run in-country asylum processing programs, but their implementation is often dictated by political and diplomatic considerations.”

And what is the precedent, you may be asking? According to a report written by the Congressional Research Service for use by members of Congress, “Typically, a refugee being considered for resettlement in the United States is outside his or her country of origin (in a host country). The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), however, also authorizes the president, after appropriate consultation with Congress, to specify groups for in-country refugee processing. Since the late 1980s, presidents typically have specified three or four groups as being eligible for in-country processing in a fiscal year.”

In short, it’s hopeless. President Chump doesn’t give a rat’s ass about human rights, or immigrants, or gay men facing torture or even death.

Back to Mackinnon: “‘It’s not like we couldn’t do it, it’s that simply we have chosen not to,’ says Aaron Morris, executive director of Immigration Equality, a US advocacy group which works with LGBT asylum seekers. Russians are their second largest client group. When Russia began to clamp down on LGBT rights with the passage of the ‘gay propaganda’ law, which makes it illegal to discuss LGBT issues around minors, Immigration Equality lobbied to have asylum applications of LGBT Russians processed in-country, but their appeals were denied. Even for those who make it out of Russia, their problems are far from over. In big American cities they may have to wait years for an asylum interview, while in the United Kingdom they can be subjected to humiliating and invasive questioning to ‘prove’ their sexuality.”

And what are these “humiliating and invasive” questions? We turn to Asylum Aid’s Debora Singer writing for the Guardian for the answer: “It used to be the case that claims for asylum from gay men and lesbians were refused as the Home Office reasoned claimants could return to their home countries and just be discreet: refrain from same-sex relationships and hide their sexuality. It took a case at the Supreme Court to overturn this. In the same way as you cannot be expected to hide your religion, the court said you couldn’t be expected to hide your sexuality. Since then, the Home Office has changed tack in the way it refuses these asylum claims. Instead of telling applicants to be discreet, it just doesn’t believe them when they say they are gay.”


Singer continues: “So how do you prove you are gay? No one arrives in the UK with a certificate stating their sexuality, just as no one in the UK has such a certificate. Instead applicants have to rely on the believability of their oral testimony at their Home Office interview. At which stage your own feelings about your sexuality, your reluctance for it to be known publicly, your lack of words related to sexual issues (in English or your own language) all come into play. Plus having to relive the trauma of how you were persecuted.”

Note that this policy transcends whoever occupies 10 Downing Street. Lovely.

The headline: “Navy SEAL busted for second job as porn star.” I’d planned to cover this urgent story this week. The SEAL’s porn name is Jay Voom; he’s married to the porn actress Jewels Jade. They’ve appeared together in such classic cinema as “Apple Smashing Lap Dance” and “Strippers Come Home Horny from the Club.” The piece would have written itself. But after reading the most recent news from Chechnya — and the world’s mostly torpid response — I just wasn’t in the mood for cheap laughs.

Rest assured, though: cheap laughs will return to Media Circus very soon. I consider them to be the backbone of the column.

Follow @edsikov on Twitter and Facebook.