The United States has declined visas to gay Chechens fleeing a wave of kidnappings, torture, and disappearances in the semi-autonomous Russian region, according to the organization Russia LGBT Network.
A group of around 40 Chechens are now in hiding in other parts of Russia, a Russia LGBT Network spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, and are having difficulty securing visas that would allow them to flee the country.
[The strongman who rules Chechnya with near impunity, Ramzan] Kadyrov has responded to the Novaya Gazeta reports — which have since been confirmed by human rights organizations and international news outlets — by denying such a crackdown could have taken place because Chechnya "does not have this phenomenon called non-traditional sexual orientation." Several of the reporters involved in breaking the story left Russia in fear for their safety after a Kadyrov adviser called them "enemies of our faith and of our country" in a televised rally in April.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told Baltic News Service Wednesday that Lithuania granted visas to “two natives of Chechnya who suffered persecution because of their sexual orientation.” He called on other European Union countries to follow suit.
While Lithuania opened itself to those fleeing persecution, the United States slammed its own door shut. On Wednesday, Buzzfeed News reported the State Department denied visas to gay Chechens fleeing persecution, even while LGBTI groups in Russia frantically search for ways to get them out of the country.
The Russia LGBT Network said there are still about 40 survivors of Chechen prison camps currently in hiding and trying to flee the country.
The White House gave no indication the issue came up during President Donald Trump’s now infamous meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on May 10, and said it was “not aware” if Trump was even briefed on the issue.