On Dec 2, 2016 CBC reported: Bassel Mcleash came to Canada by way of railroad. Not on a real train, but an underground one called the Rainbow Railroad.
The 29-year-old is gay, which is illegal in his home country of Syria.
“Most of the people who get arrested for the first time, after getting out of the jail, they just disappear,” said Mcleash.
He said in Damascus there was a safe circle of LGBT people, but they still had to hide their true selves. He said if people were caught they would lose many of their rights, including getting married, getting a passport or working for the government.
“At the same time if someone kills you, you are the same as a bug or an ant,” he said. “You’re an ant who has a name.”
‘Akin to the underground railroad’
Mcleash will be in Winnipeg on Dec. 10 to share his story of survival at a fundraiser for Rainbow Railroad.
“They call themselves the ambulance,” said Carmyn Aleshka, who is organizing the fundraiser through her non-profit, called Upside Down Tree.
“There is a crisis, they come, they help.”
Kimahli Powell is the newly appointed executive director of Rainbow Railroad. (Supplied)
Rainbow Railroad received its charitable status in 2013. In 2015 it received 235 requests for help. The charity was able to provide 29 people with emergency travel and assisted one more with resettlement in Canada.
“Our mandate is akin to the underground railroad,” said Railroad executive director Kimahli Powell.
On average the charity spends $8,000 to $10,000 on flights and documents to get a LGBT person out of their home country. Once there, they they are connected with resettlement organizations, which help them start their new life.
“We recently found safe haven for someone from Uganda to Argentina,” said Powell.
Rainbow Railroad is mostly volunteer-run, expect for two employees, and relies on donations.
Aleshka said the 2015 event raised $400,000.
The fundraiser on Dec. 10 will feature a dramatization of the Railroad’s efforts.