In an extraordinary effort that appears to be an attempt escape the reach of Australian courts, the government on Friday swiftly moved the 23-year-old Somalian, who is pregnant as a result of being raped on Nauru, from Villawood detention centre in Sydney.
The woman, known under the pseudonym Abyan, was raped by an unknown assailant in July.
Since her pregnancy has become known, she had been pleading with Australian authorities for weeks to be brought to Australia to terminate the pregnancy.
Because of restrictive abortion laws in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, there was nowhere in Australia’s offshore detention network where she could have the termination.
Abyan was brought to Australia on Sunday evening, and held at Villawood detention centre. She told friends and advocates she feared being sent back 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],” Abyan said.
Abyan had a medical appointment scheduled on Thursday, which she declined to attend, sources have told the Guardian.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection is understood to have taken her non-attendance as refusing to have the termination.
However, advocates assisting Abyan say this is not true. They say she was only asking for more time to decide, and had asked repeatedly to see a counsellor, a request the Guardian understands, was not granted.
On Friday, department officials began making preparations to forcibly remove her from Australia.
Special counsel for Shine Lawyers George Newhouse, who is acting for Abyan, wrote to senior officials at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection on Friday before Abyan was removed from the country.
“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,” he wrote.
“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.”
In the letter, Newhouse requested he be allowed to speak to his client – as afforded by Australian law and the 1951 Refugees Convention – before she was removed. He was not allowed to speak with her.
Hearing that Abyan was being moved, her lawyers sought an injunction against her removal in the federal court before Justice Jacqueline Gleeson.
But in court, they were told that Abyan was already out of the country, and had been flown by chartered jet to the Solomon Islands capital, Honiara. The government was planning to return her to Nauru on Friday night.
It appears the government chartered a RAAF 737 to make the flight to Nauru.
Newhouse said the government’s strategy in forcibly removing Abyan was aimed “at avoiding due process and any scrutiny”.
“The conduct of the Commonwealth in effectively abducting our client before we could speak to her or bring the matter to the court is astounding. I don’t think there’s been a case like it since the Petrov Affair.”
In acting for Abyan, Shine Lawyers took advice from leading women’s psychiatrists and obstetricians, Newhouse said.
“And our correspondence with the Commonwealth has been based on that. All we ask the Commonwealth to do, all we have been asking for is what any woman in this country would expect, and that is to be fit for the operation, to be counselled about the sexual assault and the pregnancy and to understand the operation so that she could give fully informed consent.”
Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition with with Abyan in Villawood this week. He says he was shocked to discover she had been spirited out of the country.
“This is staggering beyond belief that they would act so deliberately to remove her from the court’s jurisdiction: they have flown her to Honiara to ensure they could be no court decision. Having recognised their mistake in the first place, and brought her to Australia, the government has gone to extraordinary lengths to deny her fundamental rights that would been afforded to any woman in Australia.”
Rintoul said he feared for Abyan’s physical safety on Nauru, and for her mental health.
“At a personal level, Abyan has already suffered enormous mental anguish, over the rape, and over her situation. I have at a personal level, serious fears for her health and her mental health They have placed her back in the most extreme desperate personal circumstances, with no concern for her wellbeing on Nauru.”
Repeated requests for information on Abyan’s case from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and from the minister’s office, received no response.
On Thursday, the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, said there was a “racket” among refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru seeking to come to Australia for medical care, so they could then demand their asylum claims be processed in Australia.
“The racket that’s been going on here is that people, at the margins, come to Australia from Nauru, the government’s then injuncted, we can’t send them back to Nauru and there are over 200 people in that category.
“Now, as I say, we want to provide support to the Nauruans. We want to provide a safe environment, a humane environment for people, but we aren’t going to be taken for mugs.”
Dutton cited Australian financial support for healthcare in Nauru – including $11m for a medical centre inside the detention centre, and $26m towards the refurbishment of Nauru’s hospital.
Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said Abyan was being returned to danger.
“This is extraordinary and it is appalling that 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.”
Curr said the government, and the immigration department in particular, was “waging war on women”
“They have used force to put this person beyond the reach of Australian courts.”
No one has been charged with Abyan’s assault. She declined to go to police, telling caseworkers she feared her attacker finding out she had lodged a complaint.