A charity has partnered with the Canadian government to help dozens of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender refugees escape persecution in Russia’s Chechnya republic.

Kimalhi Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, says the non-profit group heard in April that Chechen forces were abducting, torturing and murdering gay men.

Powell says the charity worked with the Russian LGBT Network to establish safe houses for 37 people looking to escape the country, and partnered with the Canadian government on emergency visas.

Rainbow Railroad says 31 of those it has helped leave Chechnya have now arrived in Canada.

“It’s very exciting to see the optimism in their eyes,” Powell told CTV News Channel on Friday.

He added that the Chechens in Canada are “going to need a lot of support,” because many have experienced trauma and they do not speak much English.

Powell said he hopes the partnership with the Canadian government can be used as a model to save more persecuted people.

“When I started to talk to the Canadian government about this issue, I mentioned that we cannot just be reactionary in these crises,” he said.

Rainbow Railroad says it has helped more than 140 persecuted individuals escape to safe countries in 2017.

Rainbow Railroad was founded in 2006, and has grown to include a series of volunteers, lawyers and social workers who help refugees experiencing physical violence or the threat of violence, imprisonment, or death, to find asylum.

According to a 2017 report by ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, 72 countries still criminalize homosexuality.

In some countries, such as Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen, homosexuality is punishable by the death penalty.