A Russian organization aiding LGBTQ people fleeing persecution from homophobic regimes is just $250 away from meeting its crowdfunding goal.
Stimul, a Moscow-based LGBTQ initiative, is working with international advocacy groups like All Out to provide shelter to queer and trans people seeking asylum from neighboring countries like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as well as the semi-independent Russian republic of Chechnya.
More than 100 individuals have been arrested, beaten, and tortured amid an ongoing crackdown led by Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. At least four have been killed.
Since the purge began last year, Stimul has been providing safe houses to queer and trans refugees who come to Moscow seeking shelter. When the organization spoke to INTO last month, it estimated that around 25 individuals had sought out the organization to plead for help in their cases.
These asylum seekers include the Uzbek journalist Ali Feruz, a reporter for the newspaper which first broke news of the Chechyna’s anti-LGBTQ extermination campaign in May 2017.
As Stimul Executive Director Andrei Petrov explains in an interview with INTO, many of these asylum seekers come to Moscow with “no place to live and no money.” Without resources or even a roof over their heads, they are likely to be captured by Russian authorities and sent back to their home countries.
After being picked up by police in August 2017, Feruz faced deportation back to Uzbekistan—where he was likely to be killed. During his detainment, he was reportedly beaten and subjected to shock treatment.
To prevent their detainment, Stimul offers refugees shelter in apartments, hotels, or hostels where they can be protected from harm.
“When they arrive here they are very scared, they feel unsafe, but when they are provided this shelter—even temporary—they feel better,” Petrov said with the help of a translator. “They feel safe and happy. In these hard times, it’s all we can do.”
The safe houses—which also include resources like food, water, and even mobile phones in case of emergencies—can be lifesaving for refugees who have nowhere else to go.
Ibrahim, a 20-year-old refugee from Chechnya, was subjected to conversion therapy after his family discovered his sexuality when he was just 15. Relatives forced him to take herbs that caused him to hallucinate and practiced shock therapy and bloodletting to “cure” him of his same-sex attractions.
After he was outed to authorities when he was 18 and put on Kadyrov’s list of suspected LGBTQ individuals, he fled to Moscow. With the help of Stimul, he received a passport offering him a chance at freedom.
“I really hope that they will help me to leave Russia—otherwise it will be literally the end of me,” Ibrahim claimed. “If I’m on Kadyrov’s supporters’ lists, sooner or later they’ll find me. Kadyrov’s supporters may not kill me, but to hurt permanently both life and health forever—that’s no problem for them. I have no other way or chance to be saved.”
Stimul assists refugees like Ibrahim with their applications for asylum to have safe passage out of Russia. Many will not have that opportunity. Of the two dozen cases which have come through their doors, just one applicant has been placed.
But for others, the safe house helps them escape families who are likely to kill them if they hunt them down.
David, a 20-year-old gay man from Georgia, fled to St. Petersburg after he was severely beaten and robbed by three men who threatened to sell him into slavery. When David reported the incident to police, the college student was forced to undergo a lengthy trial which not only outed him to police but to his attackers’ families—who would repeatedly call his house and threaten to murder him.
The brother of one of his assailants attempted to beat him in court, and the bailiffs refused to intervene.
Escape, however, did not solve David’s problems. His uncle is a police officer and his brother works in security detail for the president of South Ossetia, a territory in the Caucasus mountains. Both are well-connected and “want [him] dead,” as David claimed in a statement.
Stimul is currently helping David procure a European passport after a year of roadblocks due to issues with “documents and financial problems.”
“I want to leave and to not be afraid anymore, to not hide and just live,” he said.
Other clients currently working with Stimul to seek asylum include Jack, a 27-year-old Afghan refugee whose family has threatened to torture him if he returns home, and Vladimir, a 19-year-old who was blackmailed by a male cousin after sexually assaulting him and then outed to family members by an aunt. After sharing private messages Vladimir sent on social media, she accused him of prostitution.
Although Stimul received assistance from partner organizations and NGOs to provide assistance to LGBTQ people in need, Petrov claimed they are “very small” compared to other human rights groups in the area and have “limited resources.”
The crowdfunding campaign will help Stimul continue to provide the safe spaces and legal representation LGBTQ asylum seekers need. Without them, lives will be lost.
“For some people, this is the only opportunity to continue to live,” Petrov said. “One of our applicants, before he came to us, he lived on the railroad station. It’s crucial to remember that every person has the right to life, the right to well-being, and health—and it’s crucial to help these people who live this danger.”
You can donate to Stimul here.