“I was raped on Nauru.  I have been very sick.  I have never said that 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.  Please help me.”

Picture: The Australian.com


Another shocking turn of events has occurred under Australia’s regime on asylum seekers: sending a refugee woman who had been raped and impregnated in Australia’s detention camp in Nauru back to the scene of the crime, and without the abortion she had desperately sought.

Abyan[1] is a 23 year old woman who had fled persecution and sexual violence in her home country of Somalia, where her family was allegedly killed in a rocket attack in 2007 during the government’s conflict with Islamist militant group al-Shabaab[2].  Abyan had come on a boat to Australia to seek refuge.  Instead, her boat was intercepted under Australia’s ‘Stop the Boats’ policy and she was detained in a detention centre in the Pacific Island of Nauru.  There, she was raped and impregnated as a result.

Abortion is illegal in Nauru except in very limited conditions, rape not being one of them. Following public outcry over the Australian government’s reluctance to allow Abyan to come to Australia for an abortion Abyan was flown to Australia after around 6 weeks of public campaigns and legal representations.  At this point she was around 14 weeks pregnant, had lost 10kg, and was very ill. 5 days later, on the morning of Friday 16 October, she was unexpectedly whisked out of Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney.  Without an abortion or other medical assistance, Abyan was airlifted back to Nauru on a chartered plane.

Abyan’s lawyers were denied permission by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to speak with Abyan before she was removed, contrary to Australian domestic law and the 1951 Refugee Convention[3].  They had sought an urgent injunction in the Australian federal court to prevent her removal, yet unbeknownst to them Abyan had already left the country and was therefore no longer under the jurisdiction of the Australian courts.

In a heart-breaking note, Abyan stated:

 “I was raped on Nauru.  I have been very sick.  I have never said that 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.  Please help me.”

Naura letter

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton stated that Abyan had been seen by doctors and had decided not to go through with the abortion.  However, Abyan’s lawyer George Newhouse, special counsel for Shine Lawyers, has insisted that Abyan had not refused the termination, and had the standard right to counselling and advice before giving her informed consent to undergo the procedure, as per advice from leading women’s psychiatrists and obstetricians.

The speed and urgency in which Abyan was removed from Australia is a further cause for concern. Newhouse has condemned the Australian government for avoiding due process and scrutiny, whilst Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition stated:

“This is staggering beyond belief that they would act so deliberately to remove her from the court’s jurisdiction…the government has gone to extraordinary lengths to deny her fundamental rights that would have been afforded to any woman in Australia.”[4]

Abyan’s case is in the spotlight amid a chain of sexual assaults reported in Nauru involving migrants detained there by the Australian government.  This has included, most recently, a harrowing video after a 26 year old Somali woman was allegedly raped by two Nauran men, and an Iranian asylum seeker who was raped on the island.[5]  In the recent Senate Committee report[6], the living conditions were held to be unsafe and held a high risk of suffering physical or sexual abuse.  Further, the procedure for dealing with sexual assault reports was deemed highly inadequate, with none of the forensic examinations, assistance, support and counselling that would be conducted in Australia.

Op sovereign

Human Rights at Sea has previously published two case studies last year documenting the human rights abuses occurring within Australia’s detention centres under the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’ and it seems that little has changed under the new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.  Under Australia’s controversial asylum policy, all boats containing undocumented migrants are intercepted, and the migrants are mandatorily detained and processed in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.  Earlier case studies by Human Rights at Sea have detailed the abhorrent living conditions within these detention centres, which have raised serious issues about their compatibility with international human rights law.

It is shocking that little has been done by the Australian government to uphold their duty of care and protect the basic rights of the human beings that it holds within these detention centres.  Yet, what is most worrying is precisely how little the world really knows as to what goes on Australia’s detention centres.

Just this year, the Border Force Act was passed, making it a criminal offence for anyone who works in an immigration detention centre to reveal any information about anything that happens within the detention centre.

As stated by the Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs, this highlights the core problem of secrecy and lack of transparency.

It is clear that there are acute problems in bringing justice in Nauru, which boasts a climate of fear and an inadequate justice system. Since 2012 just two convictions were obtained out of the 50 sexual assault or rape incidents that had been referred to the Nauran police[7], and there have been a number of reports just this month of the intimidating treatment of rape victims by the Nauran police, which has included publicly naming a rape complainant and threats to charge and kill another for making a “false complaint”[8].

Gillian Trigg

If the reasons for Abyan’s swift return to Nauru as alleged by her lawyers are to be believed and are factually correct, it would appear that there is little hope in Australia bringing about justice in such instances. Instead, the process would appear to be placing victims back in the hands and environment of their alleged perpetrators.

The Australian Government must adhere to the very principles it so strongly advocates, which include the freedom of speech, the rights of women, and the rights to healthcare.  To achieve this, it needs to create a culture of transparency within the detention centres, including comprehensive and independent monitoring conducted in real time, and proper procedures to ensure that migrants in these centres can at least have a chance to restore their dignity and receive the necessary treatment and support.

Abyan is just one harrowing example of the many migrants who flee tragic, war-stricken conditions in their home countries, risking their lives in rickety boats in search of asylum.  The last thing they need is to be subsequently subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment by the very country they place their hopes with for fair and lawful treatment.  As to Abyan’s fate?  Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre emphatically states that she is not safe:

“…She’s going back to a place where she was raped.  She is being forced back into the Community, at the same risk she was at before…She is now being forced to have a baby that she may not want.  In a country where it is not safe, where there is a rapist that knows it is his child.  She is not safe.”


Andrea Tang | Human Rights at Sea 


GetUp is currently holding an urgent petition to bring Abyan back to Australia and ensure she receives the care she needs.  If you are interested in completing it, please visit: www.getup.org.au/bring-her-back

[1] Abyan is a pseudonym – her real name is protected.

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/23/world/australia/australia-somalia-refugee-abyan-rape-abortion-nauru.html?_r=0

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/oct/16/australia-secretly-flies-pregnant-asylum-seeker-back-to-nauru-before-hearing

[4] http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/oct/16/australia-secretly-flies-pregnant-asylum-seeker-back-to-nauru-before-hearing

[5] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-28/two-refugees-allegedly-raped-on-nauru/6809956

[6] http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Regional_processing_Nauru/Regional_processing_Nauru/Final_Report

[7] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-28/two-refugees-allegedly-raped-on-nauru/6809956

[8] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11926260/Australia-refugee-Nauru-rapes-Malcolm-Turnbull-must-help-these-women.html