Russia’s anti-gay laws are causing people to flee straight to Canada, even if it means they will be homeless.
Maxim Zhuralev, a 38-year-old gay man, spent all of his money getting to Canada from Kurgan in late March. He is currently living in a homeless shelter in downtown Vancouver while he waits for his claim for asylum to process and said his life is already “better than Russia,” according to the Montreal Gazette.
Rob Hughes, a Vancouver lawyer that deals with LGBT asylum claimants, has noticed an increase in Russian clients since the anti-gay laws were put into place.
“To get two cases from Russia in such a short period of time, I think it indicates just how afraid people are,” he said.
However, because Russians do need a visa to get to Canada, Hughes thinks this could be a big barrier for some.
Zhuralev decided to flee to Canada because he “heard [Canada] was traditionally a country of immigrants and immigrants are treated with respect and justice.” He chose Vancouver because “Vancouver is a gay Mecca, of course.”
After being disowned by his family for being gay, his brother even threatening with violence, Zhuralev lost his job at a gay rights organization when it was shut down by authorities. When Zhuralev got caught up in a love triangle with two men, one jealously threatening him, he was unable to report it to authorities because of their homophobic views. Zhuralev was even beat up by a group of eight men when he confessed his love to a friend who turned out to be straight.
“It’s a danger in Russia to tell anyone you’re gay,” he said.
While the federal government doesn’t track the number of asylum claimants that come to Canada for fear of their sexual orientation, Russian claims are generally low. According to the Immigration and Refugee Board, 48 claims have been made since January. From April to June, just 19 were made. The overall acceptance rate of the claims this year is about 35 percent.
“I can still hardly believe how openly homosexual I can be in Canada,” Zhuralev said. “Without any negative consequences for this…I can be myself.”