Rainbow Railroad station praises expansion of program to help LGBTQ refugees get to Canada

A group that helps LGBTQ refugees integrate into their new lives in Calgary is praising the federal government’s decision to expand a pilot program that helps persecuted LGBTQ people flee to Canada.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Partnership, which began as a pilot project in 2011, will expand from bringing 15 refugees per year to 50 starting in 2020.

The government is pledging $800,000 over five years to provide start-up costs and three months of support to LGBTQ refugees privately sponsored by Canadians, Hussen said Saturday.

“It’s fantastic actually to see this happen,” said Kelly Ernst, with Calgary’s End of the Rainbow Foundation.

“It’s going to make the process to help LGBT refugees seek safety in Canada much easier, and help us to address the truly unique needs that LGBT refugees experience.”

The group helps LGBTQ refugees and immigrants integrate into Calgary, whether it’s providing settlement supports or language and career training.

It’s one of the stations on Canada’s Rainbow Railroad, which brings LGBTQ refugees to Canada from countries where they are persecuted for their gender or sexual orientation.

“There’s more than 70 countries around the world that criminalize same-sex sexual behaviour and being LGBT, and if you think about for a moment from the perspective of what that would do to LGBT people in those countries, it creates a huge wave of refugees that want to get out,” Ernst said.

Group helped 180 Calgarians last year

He said through his organization’s partnership with the Calgary Centre for Newcomers, they’ve served about 180 people in Calgary in 2018 — and those are just those who came forward. He said they receive calls and emails from people around the world a few times a week asking for help.

“The people that are trying to get out are at threat of imprisonment, or have experienced imprisonment for being gay or lesbian or trans. They’ve often been tortured. They’ve often experienced incredible violence from the community or police … and so they’re trying to get out of the country as quickly as they can.”

Ernst said most of the refugees supported through the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Partnership are at high risk in their countries of origin, and that 93 per cent pass their initial immigration and review board hearing. Of the seven per cent that do not pass, the majority appeal and are accepted into the country as well.

“They really do see Canada as a haven for human rights and they certainly feel Alberta is a place they can truly call home,” he said.

“All of the ones we’ve been working with have all been universally wanting to give back to this country. So I think Canadians need to think of this as an opportunity to capitalize upon the skills and abilities that they bring to us and make sure that we do support these people, because they’re some of the most motivated people I’ve ever met.”

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