By Nita Bhalla
NAIROBI, Dec 13 (Openly) - LGBT+ refugees in Kenya's remote Kakuma camp are being moved to safe houses in Nairobi after they were attacked when protesting for greater protection, the United Nations said on Thursday.
The refugees said they were assaulted by locals and fellow refugees outside the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) office while protesting about rising homophobic attacks in recent months where LGBT+ members were beaten and their shelters set alight.
The latest attack happened on Tuesday in sprawling Kakuma camp in Kenya's northwestern Turkana county, home to at least 180,000 refugees from more than 10 countries.
The refugees said they were beaten with wooden sticks and iron bars and about 20 people were injured. Pictures and videos shared with the Thomson Reuters Foundation showed them in torn, bloodied clothing with swollen faces and bandaged limbs.
Sexual minorities face widespread discrimination in Kenya and many other parts of Africa, where about 33 nations out of 54 criminalise same-sex relations, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).
"While UNHCR has undertaken great effort, together with the Kenyan government and partners, the Kakuma context does not provide a safe environment for LGBTI refugees and asylum-seekers," said a UNHCR spokeswoman.
"UNHCR believes that the LGBTI refugees who were involved in this incident would be better protected outside Kakuma. The necessary measures have been taken to facilitate their removal."
About 20 of 170 LGBT+ refugees in Kakuma were being shifted to safe houses in the capital on Thursday, with another 150 at-risk refugees to move by month's end, she said.
The spokeswoman said it was a permanent relocation.
LGBT+ refugees welcomed the move but demanded immediate relocation, saying another LGBT+ refugee was stabbed on Thursday, leaving others fearing for their lives.
"The situation is so bad and we all need to leave Kakuma refugee camp," Moses Mbazira, an LGBT+ refugee who said he was beaten during the protest, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by video message from Kakuma. "It's not safe for us at all."
LGBT+ refugees say they need speedy resettlement in a third country where they can be free and safe, but UNHCR officials say this can take years as most nations do not see sexual minorities as a priority when considering asylum requests.
The refugees said they did not feel protected by the police and homophobic violence had been on the rise since they held a Gay Pride event in Kakuma in June.
"I don't know what happened because we heard they were fighting after they already fought, so we are still investigating to know who started the fight," said Joseph Cheruiyot, police commander for Turkana West region.
African countries have some of the most prohibitive laws against homosexuality in the world, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to death.
Although gay sex is punishable with up to 14 years in jail in Kenya, the law is rarely enforced and the east African nation is seen as more tolerant than neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania.
There are more than 750 LGBT+ refugees registered in Kenya with the UNHCR, mostly from Uganda, but also from Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Burundi, South Sudan and Somalia. (Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla. Additional reporting by Sally Hayden. Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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