There’s no decency in how Australia has treated Abyan. No matter what the truth is – Richard Ackland

It might be productive to draw breath, stand back and try and assess the extent to which, if at all, Australia is culpable for the moral and/or psychological neglect of the pregnant Somali refugee known as Abyan, who says she was raped on Nauru.

The conflicting positions are by now well settled. Abyan was brought to Australia, where according to the minister for immigration, Peter Dutton, she was attended by counsellors, nurses, doctors and interpreters and then decided she didn’t want to embark on a procedure to terminate her pregnancy.

The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, used the same line when he was in New Zealand on the weekend.

Abyan was whisked back to Nauru, on a charter flight, where she remains. This flight was arranged as her lawyers headed to the federal court seeking an interim injunction against her removal from Australia. Once she was out of the country on her way to Honiara and then onto Nauru, the court had no jurisdiction.

Abyan and her lawyer, George Newhouse, have a different take. She was not attended by a doctor or a counsellor and there was no interpreter at Villawood detention centre. She was not allowed to talk to her lawyer. Further, she said in a handwritten note passed to the media that, “I have never said thate [sic] I did not want a termination.”

It is possible she dictated the note to someone whose English was stronger than hers.

Newhouse says his client told the people at Villawood and at an abortion clinic to which she had been referred, that she would tell them the next day whether she would go ahead with the termination of the 14-week foetus.

Some of this was backed-up by Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition, who also saw her in Australia. Dutton says the version of events being told by “some advocates” is a shameful lie.

However, we can draw our own conclusions on the basis of a trail of evidence, circumstantial and otherwise.

Dutton suggests that Abyan’s case may simply be another instance where lawyers acting for refugees brought to Australia for medical treatment bring injunctions preventing their clients’ return to Nauru.

The minister says this has happened on 240 occasions. If this is so it represents a soft underbelly of “stop the boats” and would have the government on red alert.

However, is it true? There may well have been 240 instances of applications for interim injunctions, but he produced no evidence all those injunctions against removal from Australia lasted longer than the required medical treatment, or that they turned into final orders of the court.

There’s another aspect to this. Why would there be so many medical trips to Australia by refugees and asylum seekers held on Nauru? The obvious conclusion is that we are shamefully incarcerating people on an island without adequate medical facilities or resources as part of a policy of deterrence.

The suggestion that Abyan was removed from Australia peremptorily and for political purposes is also reinforced by the timing of the manoeuvre.

Newhouse sent an email on Friday at 11.58am to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection requesting to meet his client and that she not be removed from the country.

One and a half hours later, Abyan was on a charter plane out of here.

The consequence was that the application for an interim injunction went nowhere and the minister had foiled what he publicly portrayed as legal trickery. He claimed he was protecting women being used as political pawns by lawyers and others.

Importantly, the policy remains unimpeached – no refugee who arrived on a boat in the Abbott era would ever settle in Australia.

There’s another telling strand. On Monday, Neil Skill, the first assistant secretary of the immigration department, told Senate estimates that Abyan was taken out of the country on a private charter rather than a commercial airline because of a “risk with regard to non-compliance and disrupting the airline”.

The obvious question is why would she be disrupting the airline and being non-compliant if she voluntarily decided to return to Nauru without having had an abortion, as the minister assured us?

It just doesn’t stack up.

There’s a well trod pattern whereby the Australian government anticipates the consequences of legal proceedings brought on behalf of those detained on Nauru. We saw this in amendments to the Migration Act in June, backdated to August 2012. They sought to put beyond doubt the commonwealth’s authority to manage “unauthorised arrivals” and fund regional detention camps.

This anticipated the high court proceedings that were filed in May seeking orders on behalf of a detained Bangladeshi women challenging the legality of Australia’s orchestration of the offshore processing regime and its funding.

The timing of the decision whereby all those in detention on Nauru would be able to move around the island also foreshadowed the high court hearing.

Dutton is now saying that the Somali woman may still be able to come back to Australia to terminate her pregnancy. According to reports in The Australian on Tuesday, she doesn’t want to come back here for that procedure, although she still wants to have it.

Dutton is an unsympathetic character whose conduct invites a fair degree of scepticism about his assertions.

When you add his concerns about tricky lawyers beating the system, the hastily arranged charter flight and the imperative of protecting the policy setting – there’s an even stronger inference that once again Australia has failed not only in its duty of care, but its decency.

And here we are seeking membership of the UN human rights council.

Source: There’s no decency in how Australia has treated Abyan. No matter what the truth is | Richard Ackland | Comment is free | The Guardian

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