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The Women of Nauru: One Week Later

Last week we looked at all the ways we've failed female refugees. This week the situation is even worse.

Screengrab via Google

This article originally appeared on VICE Australia

Last week we looked at all the ways we've failed female refugees. Among the tales of horror there was one glimmer of hope: after weeks of refusals, Australia had finally permitted Abyan, the woman who had been raped in our custody, to temporarily leave Nauru so she could come to a country that will allow her to have an abortion. The fact that this sentence qualifies as a "glimmer of hope" says an awful lot about how shitty this whole thing is.


But we couldn't even manage that.

On Friday, news came through that she had been sent back to Nauru. At 9 AM, immigration officials took Abyan from her room in Sydney's Villawood Detention Centre and flew her out of the country.

To break this down: Abyan had not received the abortion she'd come to Australia for. According to the Prime Minister, she had "changed her mind" about the termination, and so was flown back. According to her lawyer George Newhouse, she had requested to see a counselor before the procedure, and was reportedly denied. What a woman in indefinite detention who had to repeatedly beg a government to let her have an abortion for a pregnancy that was the result of a rape would need counseling for is anyone's guess.

To break this down: Abyan had not received the abortion she'd come to Australia for.

"Comments from some advocates to the contrary are a fabrication," said Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, "while others appear to be using this woman's circumstance for their own political agenda. They should be ashamed of their lies." For the record, Peter Dutton does not want you using this woman's circumstance for your political agenda. Peter Dutton. I'm only repeating it because it's good advice. Peter Dutton.

Abyan's legal team lodged an urgent injunction with the Federal Court to prevent her deportation, but it was too late. They'd not learned that she was being shipped out until after she was already out of the country, and so the Court no longer had jurisdiction. How much did it cost for the government to charter a Boeing 737 out of the country before her lawyers could act? A grand total of $130,000 [$98,800], footed by the taxpayers.


A handwritten note from Abyan was soon released, refuting Dutton's claims that she had refused the termination. If the note is to be believed—and the government's hardline stance is one it is proud of, so its contents seem entirely consistent with their own ongoing narrative—she was refused access to a counselor, to an interpreter, and to her lawyers. Given her lawyers did not learn she was being deported until after it had happened, this seems like a terribly credible claim.

Meanwhile, Abyan is back on Nauru and continues to seek an abortion. She cannot have one on Nauru, a Christian nation where abortion laws are much tighter. She has no desire to return to Australia, and who could blame her?

Just when you thought things couldn't get worse, she then had to meet Chris Kenny.

Chris Kenny is a journalist who is probably best known for telling everyone he does not have sex with dogs. When he's not doing that, he writes for the Australian, hosts Viewpoint on Sky News, and frequently tweets the hashtag #theirABC to demonstrate his dislike for the public broadcaster's completely provable left-leaning ways.

Chris Kenny is key to all this, because this week he became the first foreign news journalist to be granted a visa to Nauru. And this is of huge significance.

Nauru has been doing everything it can to prevent journalists from visiting the island, raising the cost of visas by almost 2000 percent (not a typo) and rejecting all applicants. So why was Kenny deemed an exception?


Kenny is a noted advocate for the government's border policies, and has not been shy in expressing these views. "If my public support for strong border protection measures helped sway Nauru's decision, so be it," he told the Guardian.

The Australian has crowed over its "scoop" in getting Kenny to Nauru, seemingly unconcerned about the fact that no other journalist has been permitted for the past year-and-a-half. Kenny being waved through is not an example of his journalistic integrity; it's the exact opposite. Particularly when you look at the contents of the Nauru Government's own Twitter feed:

But there's more to it than that.

According to a group email sent by Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Abyan had phoned her in distress because Kenny had turned up at her door with the police. (The Nauru government Twitter feed denies police had accompanied Kenny.) Abyan repeatedly told Kenny to leave, and Curr spoke to Kenny on the phone telling him to do the same.

Kenny strenuously denies all of this (threatening legal action against Curr), and his dispatch from Nauru (which is behind the Australian's paywall) features quotes from Abyan. According to Kenny, Abyan invited him in and spoke willingly.

His article is far more reasonable than his many critics would predict (Abyan's story is given significant room), and not quite as balanced as he would like us to believe (every claim that Abyan makes is followed up by a denial by Dutton or a Nauru official, casting doubt on her story). But at the end of the piece is this curious paragraph:


"Abyan's case comes after another rape allegation made by a Somali refugee on Nauru, reported by the ABC's 7.30," reads Kenny's article. "Police have investigated that complaint and determined that it was fabricated."

You'll have to decide whether you trust the Nauruan police as much as Chris Kenny does. Perhaps he missed the interview with former Nauruan magistrate Peter Law, who told ABC radio about the systemic corruption in Nauru's police force. And if he missed that, he may have missed the recent report about Nazanin.

Nazanin is the name given to a 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker who says she was grabbed by an attacker, dragged into the bushes, and raped. She was eventually found by police, naked, and curled up in a corner.

New revelations from a source who spoke to the ABC's Lateline reveal that the police officers who found her stopped for half an hour on the way back to the police station so they could watch a fireworks display. In a story that is already horrific in too many ways to count, this is the final terrible, absurdist cherry.

Last week, we attempted to summarize all the ways in which Australia has failed female asylum seekers. It would be unreasonable to expect that things would get significantly better in only a week, but we doubt that many could have predicted that they'd get much worse.

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