(WB) Advocacy groups have urged the U.S. and other countries to offer refuge to LGBT Afghans after the Taliban regained control of the country.

“As Afghanistan falls to the Taliban, members of the LGBTIQ community are among those at greatest risk of suffering under Taliban rule,” tweeted the Organization for Migration, Refuge and Asylum on Tuesday. “The international community must act quickly and decisively to aid all those fleeing persecution.”

Stonewall, a British LGBTQ rights group, echoed ORAM’s call.

“LGBTQ+ Afghans have endured routine discrimination, abuse and persecution, including by the state,” said Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley on Tuesday. “With the Taliban in power we expect this situation to deteriorate further, including the potential for a return to active enforcement of the laws that prohibit same-sex relationships.”

President Biden last month announced U.S. military operations in Afghanistan would end on Aug. 31. The previous White House in 2020 brokered a peace deal with the Taliban that set the stage for the withdrawal.

The Taliban on Sunday entered Kabul, the Afghan capital, and toppled President Ashraf Ghani’s government. Evacuation flights resumed at the city’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on Tuesday, a day after thousands of Afghans who were desperate to leave the country swarmed it.

Media reports indicate a Taliban judge last month said the group would execute gay people if it once again governed Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan already is not a safe place to be LGBTQI+ people,” said Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, a Toronto-based organization that assists LGBTQ refugees around the world. “According to the U.S. State Department, public attitudes across the diversity of Afghan society towards LGBTQI+ people are extremely negative, which leads members of the LGBTQ+ community to keep their gender identity and sexual orientation a secret in fear of harassment, intimidation, persecution and death. Now, with the return of the Taliban, there is an understandable fear that the situation will worsen.”

“Rainbow Railroad is concerned that the return to power of the Taliban will lead to instances of extreme violence directed at members of the LGBTQI+ community in Afghanistan,” added Powell. “And although it remains to be seen how the Taliban will respond to international pressure to uphold human rights, early signs are not encouraging. Just last month, a Taliban judge threatened that gay men will be crushed to death by toppling walls onto them should the group regain control of Afghanistan.”

Powell said Rainbow Railroad has received 50 “requests for help originating in Afghanistan” so far this year, “and we anticipate an uptick in requests due to the deteriorating security situation that threatens the safety of LGBTQI+ people.”

“Moreover there is very limited human rights defenders and civil society engagement to support LGBTQI+ persons at risk,” said Powell. “However, we are currently relying on our deep international network and contacts within the country in order to reach people at risk."

‘We don’t know what’s happening’

Charbel Maydaa is the founder and general director of MOSAIC, a Lebanon-based advocacy group that works throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Maydaa is also the first alternate co-chair of ILGA Asia.

Maydaa on Tuesday noted to the Washington Blade that the Taliban use Sharia law to target LGBT people. Maydaa noted the Taliban wants “to look good in front of the international community,” but added LGBT Afghans who remain in the country are terrified.

“We lost contact with many people there,” said Maydaa. “We don’t know what’s happening. They’re not online or they are really afraid to talk on Facebook.”

Maydaa said three female academics with whom he has worked “disappeared” five days ago. Maydaa told the Blade an LGBT person in Kabul with whom he spoke on Monday “didn’t mention anything.”

“He was really afraid to communicate, so he was just like I’m alive. I’m fine,” said Maydaa.

Maydaa said ILGA Asia is currently working to find shelters for LGBT people in Afghanistan before they are able to leave the country. Maydaa added ILGA Asia is also “trying to advocate for some governments” to “literally rescue them.”

The Canadian government on Friday announced it will allow up to 20,000 Afghans — including members of the LGBT community — to resettle in the country.

“Canada will continue to implement the special immigration program for Afghans who contributed to Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan,” a Canadian government spokesperson told the Blade on Monday. “In addition, we will introduce a special program to focus on particularly vulnerable groups that are already welcomed to Canada through existing resettlement streams, including women leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, persecuted religious minorities, LGBTI individuals and family members of previously resettled interpreters.”

“The program will welcome government-supported and privately sponsored refugees, along with those sponsored by family already in Canada,” added the spokesperson. “In the coming weeks and months, we will be engaging with our international and domestic partners to develop a plan for moving forward.”

President Biden on Monday said the U.S. will expand “refuge access to cover other vulnerable Afghans who worked for our embassy; U.S. non-government agencies — or the U.S. non-governmental organizations and Afghans who otherwise are at great risk; and U.S. news agencies.” State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday also said the State Department will “continue to pursue all options to relocate interested and qualified Afghan SIV [Special Immigration Visas] applicants and their immediate families, as well as other vulnerable Afghans.”

Price and Biden in their remarks did not specifically mention LGBT Afghans. Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet did not either on Tuesday.

“We call on the international community to extend all possible support to those who may be at imminent risk, and we call on the Taliban to demonstrate through their actions, not just their words, that the fears for the safety of so many people from so many different walks of life are addressed,” said Colville.

Log Cabin Republicans Managing Director Charles Moran on Monday sharply criticized the Biden administration.

“Make no mistake, the reinstatement of the Taliban is a literal death sentence for LGBT Afghans,” said Moran. “Human rights abuses will absolutely increase under this radical regime. The Biden administration talks a tough game about supporting the LGBT community, but that support evidently doesn’t extend to our allies in Kabul.”

“We hope the administration will be held accountable by both parties for this unprecedented disaster, but right now the priority must be to evacuate as many proven U.S. partners and allies from Kabul as possible, including LGBT Afghans,” added Moran.

Powell stressed “now is time for governments to step up and support LGBTQI+ Afghan refugees.” He specifically noted the Canadian government’s announcement.

“Rainbow Railroad is looking forward to engaging with the Canadian government to identify and refer LGBTQI+ Afghans in need of emergency assistance,” said Powell. “We strongly encourage other governments to do the same.”