A man from Chechnya who became the first refugee welcomed into France has opened up about his experience in the region.
Azmad, who’s identity is being kept anonymous for protection, is the first Chechen to benefit from an association in France working to secure emergency humanitarian visas for gay men who fear for their lives.
Having escaped to the country from Moscow, Azmad has explained that he was “living in fear”.
The 26-year-old explained: “If it [sexuality] becomes known, you are in danger, and so are those close to you. People are killed over rumours there. At home, I didn’t know calm and tranquillity.”
Azmad, who is now working on applying for asylum and hope to move on with his life, explained that the persecution was so bad that he would not risk meeting men.
“Very few take the risk,” he explained. “Gradually, gay people began to disappear. It was systematic.”
The former student explained that he would be “very discreet” if he chose to meet someone, but he refused to meet other Chechens.
However, his sexuality became known to authorities but he was let go after the first round of questioning.
Despite this, the police came looking for him again and forced him into allowing them to look through his phone.
This sparked his decision to flee the region as he knew that he was in danger.
“I escaped because I understood that I would not manage to get through it. It was going to be obvious who I am,” he said.
Azmad escaped to the neighbouring region before taking a bus to Moscow where he hid for two months.
He left with just the clothes on his back, and his family do not know if he is safe or alive.
“I am going to try to forget,” he says, and “become a normal man, that is, begin to live a normal life, a life that normal people live.”
Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta revealed the persecution against gay men in Chechnya in April. Since then, LGBT groups have desperately tried to help gay men escape from the region in Russia.
The Russian LGBT Network revealed saving more than 40 men earlier this month where living conditions are “deadly dangerous” for gay men.
A number of heart-breaking stories from the region have been shared, including reports of parents of gay people who were issued a warning to kill their children before police killed them in torture camps.
The European Parliament has called for an “immediate, independent and objective” investigation on the persecution and the US, UK and Germany that have challenged Putin.
It is believed that the concentration camp where gay men were being sent to be tortured and killed has been destroyed and those who have been detained have been by authorities moved to a new location.