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Raped refugee refused right to abortion

Thursday 8 October 2015 | Published in Regional


YAREN – Australia is refusing to grant an abortion to a Somali woman who was raped after Canberra sent her to Australia’s asylum seeker detention camp on Nauru.

The 23-year-old refugee claims she was raped on Nauru and is now 11 weeks pregnant.

Lawyers acting on her behalf have asked the Australian government to fly her back to Australia for a possible termination, but have reportedly received “no replies” from both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Immigration.

A gynaecology professor at James Cook University School of Medicine, Caroline de Costa, said the woman, who is under the care of the government of Australia, should be transferred without delay to Australia to a service where she can have appropriate care and be assisted to make an informed decision.

She said if the woman’s story is correct she should be lawfully entitled to a termination of pregnancy in any jurisdiction in Australia except South Australia.

“The earlier in pregnancy abortion is performed the safer it is. This woman who is under the care of the government of Australia should be transferred without delay to Australia, to a service where she can have appropriate consultation, examination and care from experienced and sympathetic professionals – and have the termination of pregnancy performed if that is in fact her decision,” Professor de Costa said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he was “deeply shocked” by reports a 23-year old Somali refugee who says she was raped on Nauru cannot come to Australia for an abortion and has described her case as a “travesty of justice”.

Shorten on Tuesday said that after speaking to the woman’s lawyers there was no question as to whether she should be allowed to come to Australia for medical care.

There is an epidemic of sexual violence on Nauru, according to Pamela Curr, a detention and refugee rights advocate at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, who said every week she hears of “catastrophic sexual assaults on young refugee women on Nauru”.

“I cannot understand why this is happening now on Nauru – it is extraordinary,” she said.

Curr said that the only reason she can find is that a few years ago, the mix of those who arrived on the island changed dramatically – from family groups to a huge influx of single women, mainly from Somalia and Iran.

She estimates the number of single women at somewhere between 80 and 100 – “young women who are now at risk of brutal gang rapes”.

Curr said the young women are housed in the more remote areas of the island and that isolation allows them to become even more vulnerable.

“The men stand across the roads and bar access, they pull at the women’s clothes,” she said. And it is in this atmosphere that the gang rapes occur.

Curr is also fighting for the right of the 23-year-old Somali woman to come to Australia to terminate her resulting pregnancy after being raped.

The Australian government has so far refused to medically evacuate the woman.

George Newhouse, special counsel, Shine Lawyers, who is representing the woman, said: “In my many years of experience, I have never seen the Department of Immigration conduct themselves this way. And I have seen a lot.”

“This is the standard of care we believe essential for women resident in Australia – it should also be provided for women supposedly under the protection of Australia.”

Another case involves a young woman known only as Nazanin, 23, who was found in May having been missing on the tiny island for more than three hours. She was naked, disoriented, and badly beaten.

She had bruises and bite marks on her body, and told police she had been attacked and raped.

No one has been charged.

After the attack, Nazanin’s health deteriorated precipitously. She began to refuse to eat or drink, and attempted suicide but camp managers resisted moving Nazanin to Australia even as she went into organ failure.

After pressure from doctors who warned she would die, she was moved to Brisbane in August, where she remains in hospital.

Her brother and mother, who remain on Nauru, have been fighting to travel to Australia to support Nazanin.

Her brother, Omid, said they were told they could join their daughter and sister in Australia, but have now been told they must stay on Nauru.

Two 17-year-old refugee boys were allegedly beaten and robbed by local men last week.

On Tuesday, the government of Nauru issued a statement which said that refugees in the country “are in no physical danger and stories of locals attacking them are largely fabricated to further political agendas and influence the Australian government”.

The Nauruan justice minister, David Adeang, said: “There is no gun violence in Nauru. People are not dying from domestic violence and our police don’t even have to be armed, so let’s get some perspective into this discussion,” he said.

“In some ways Nauru is safer than Australia,” he said.

Last week, the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said he was alarmed that two women on Nauru had been reportedly raped.

Turnbull said the government was committed to ensuring the safety of people who are sent to offshore processing centres.

“The Nauru government is very committed to ensuring that women – that all of the transferees and refugees, but in this context women and children – are absolutely safe in that environment.”