News

Everything We Know About the Pregnant Asylum Seeker Returned to Nauru

Did the government block a rape victim's termination out of fear she'd use the situation to stay in Australia?
October 19, 2015, 8:45pm

A note purportedly written by Abyan, explaining why she was denied care. Image via Sky News

Earlier this month, a 23-year-old pregnant Somali woman detained at the Nauru detention center was allowed into Australia to have a termination. The woman, who is known as Abyan, was allegedly raped in the center, but unable to have an abortion in Nauru where the procedure is illegal. At the time of writing, she is believed to be 14-weeks pregnant.

Less than a week after arriving in Australia, she was returned to Nauru without receiving the procedure. Debate immediately erupted over whether the decision to forgo the termination was hers, and if the government fulfilled their duty of care by providing access to doctors, mental health support, and translators.

Yesterday it was announced Abyan would be allowed to return to Australia to seek a termination again, as well as receive mental health treatment. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton announced, "She will travel to Australia for the medical treatment she needs," continuing, "I will be guided by what is in her best interests, and I will be guided by the advice of the doctors as to what is in her best interests."

Abyan was one of two women who claim they were raped by Nauruan men while in detention. Earlier this month 7.30 aired footage of the other woman pleading for help from police in relation to the rapes. According to the ABC, it took Nauruan authorities four hours to respond to the women's claims.

When it became clear that Abyan, who has been cleared as a genuine refugee, was pregnant and seeking an abortion, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said she would be allowed to enter Australia to receive the procedure. Although he stressed that any refugee flown to the mainland for medical treatment would never be allowed to permanently resettle in Australia.

Soon after arriving in Australia and being taken to Sydney's Villawood detention center, the full extent of Abyan's physical and mental health issues became clear. In the months following the assault she had lost 22 pounds and was still not eating or drinking.

Despite the severity of her situation, on Friday it was announced that she would be forced to leave the country without receiving a termination.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection reported she had decided to not go through with the abortion, but advocates and lawyers in contact with her claim she wasn't given satisfactory access to counselors or doctors.

Refugee advocates have questioned if she was provided with the information needed to make an informed decision on how to proceed. Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition, who had been in contact with her while in Australia, told the Guardian "I sat with Abyan on Tuesday at Villawood where she made it clear that she wanted to see counselors regarding the termination of her pregnancy. She has been denied the right to seek advice from doctors."

In the days after her return, his claims were supported by a handwritten letter sent to Abyan's Australian lawyer George Newhouse. It read: "I have been very sick. I have never said thate [sic] I did not want a termination, I never saw a doctor. I saw a nurse at a clinic but there was no counselling. I saw a nurse at Villawood but there was no interpreter. I asked but was not allowed to talk with my lawyer."

In response to the letter, a source from the Immigration Department insisted she did have access to counselors, doctors, and nurses, but failed to reveal how she'd communicated her desire to forgo the abortion.

Following her deportation, Mr. Rintoul told the Australian Associated Press he believed she was hastily removed "deliberately and consciously" before being given satisfactory access to doctors "to avoid there being any possible review of the decision to remove her."

Mr. Dutton called such accusations "a fabrication," but has previously accused refugees of using medical treatments as a way to enter Australia before seeking legal injunctions to prevent their returns—going as far as calling the process "a racket."

Following this most recent outcry Mr. Dutton continued: "The woman was brought to Australia for medical attention, not for a migration outcome." He suggests advocates used the situation to draw attention to the issue of refugees being resettled and "appear to be using this woman's circumstance for their own political agenda."

If she was denied access to health professionals, family planning and legal experts claim that the Immigration Department may have breached their duty of care. If proven, the federal government could face civil claims for damages on the grounds of negligence.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has since called for answers through an independent investigation. As she said, "it is hard to fathom a more brutal way of treating a scared young woman who has been raped and is struggling with the decision to terminate the pregnancy."

Two months after the alleged rapes, the Nauru police have closed their investigation, citing "insufficient evidence" supporting the woman's claim.

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