A pregnant refugee and asylum seeker, known only by the pseudonym “Abyan,” was secretly flown out of the country by Australia’s government and returned to the detention center where she was originally raped. The Somalian was in Sydney for two days while she awaited treatment after begging the government to terminate the unwanted pregnancy that occurred as a result of her alleged rape in July at a detention center in Nauru. Abyan’s lawyers have advised that she was returned without the abortion she so desperately sought.
It took a very public appeal to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, after many weeks of trying, for the 23-year-old Somali to be allowed to travel to mainland Australia for a termination of her pregnancy by rape. On Sunday, Abyan was brought to Australia and then moved to the detention centre at Villawood in Sydney. While Abyan’s lawyers were in the process of preparing for an injunction to keep her in the country, the government was busy secretly removing her from the country by charter flight. Her lawyers were informed after the fact.
The extraordinarily secretive and swift measures are believed to be the government’s way of escaping the possible injunction that the courts could have granted in favor of the Somalian woman remaining in the country.
Nauru and Papa New Guinea have very restrictive abortion laws and as such none of the detention centres offshore of Australia would be able to provide the abortion Abyan so desperately wanted. Her rape in July was by an unknown assailant and after flying over on Sunday she conveyed that she feared being returned to Nauru.
“I cannot go back to where this happened to me; I cannot go to where I was raped. What happened to me there [in Nauru] is what caused me to run away from Somalia. What happened to me in Somalia is what happened to me there [in Nauru].”
The West Australian reported that Abyan had a medical appointment scheduled for Thursday but apparently declined to attend. Her decline was taken as a refusal to abort the pregnancy and it is being claimed that this is the reason the Department of Immigration and Border Protection sent the pregnant woman back to Nauru. However, the Refugee Action Coalition has declined this, they maintain that she was only seeking to have a counselling session because of her rape ahead of the procedure. Her request for counselling was not granted.
Her lawyer, George Newhouse, had actually written to the department prior to her forced and secret removal from the country and attempted to explain the situation that Abyan was in and her feelings on the matter.
“Our client has not decided to refuse a termination and you have completely misunderstood or misconstrued her position which is as set out in my letter… of 14 October 2015. Our client has the right to counselling before a termination and to understand the procedure, that is all we have been seeking and to represent her position as a refusal is disingenuous and cruel.”
The lawyer requested to speak to his client — a right which had been set forth by Australian law and the 1951 Refugees Convention — but was denied access. After hearing that Abyan was going to be moved from Australia on Friday night, the lawyers sought an injunction against this in the federal court. However, when they reached court, they were told that the pregnant Somali refugee was already flown out of the country. The government chartered the secret flight in the middle of the night and returned Abyan to Nauru.
Her lawyers are simply appalled by the move and state that the government essentially abducted their client in order to avoid “due process and any scrutiny.” The Guardian reported that her lawyers maintain that any Australian woman in this situation would be entitled to the information and counselling prior to abortion. She should have received counselling regarding the rape and the subsequent pregnancy as well as given the opportunity to fully understand the operation and thus be better able to give informed consent.
The Refugee Action Coalition says that the government of Australia recognized their initial error in bringing Abyan into the country into the first place and this is the reason for their hasty actions. In fact, on Thursday immigration minister, Peter Dutton, had stated that more refugees and asylum seekers were clamoring to get medical treatment on the Island following Abyan’s visit and believed that it was their intention to then apply for injunctions so they could no be removed after they arrived.
The action of Australia’s government has returned the pregnant refugee to a space where she is unsafe. Abyan did not lodge a formal complaint against her attacker for fear of reprisal and now she will have to give birth to an unwanted child that her rapist will know is his.
Pamela Curr, from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, believes that the government and immigration department’s removal of Abyan can be seen as them waging war on women.
[Photo Courtesy Of Daniel Munoz/ Getty Images]