Why was raped refugee Abyan rushed back to Nauru?

Mixed reports abound in relation to Abyan.

Abyan is the 23-year-old pregnant Somali refugee who was raped in Nauru in July. She begged the Australian government for help because she was not able to access a medical termination in Nauru. The government stepped in last week.

She was transported to Australia last Sunday night and spent five nights in the Villawood Detention Centre. On Friday morning she was taken from her room in Villawood and flown back to Nauru on Friday night. Her lawyer had filed an urgent injunction to stop her removal but by the time the matter was heard Abyan had left the country.

The Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is adamant that Abyan changed her mind about seeking a termination and was consequently returned to Nauru on Friday.

Abyan’s lawyer George Newhouse disagrees. Newhouse says his client hadn’t changed her mind, but rather had sought counselling before making the decision.

She has released a short written statement saying she had not changed her mind about seeking a termination.

At this point it’s clear that Abyan has become a political football.

Her situation highlights the cruelty and lack of dignity that now characterises Australia’s treatment of and stance towards refugees. Are there people, on both sides of the political divide, exploiting Abyan’s case because of that? Yes.

Is that her creation? No. Does it negate the brutality and trauma she’s been subject to? No. Does it negate the fact she’s currently carrying a child that is allegedly the result of being raped? No.


The question I have is this. Why was she rushed out of Australia on Friday? Whatever the exact conversations and machinations that took place in the five days in which she was in the Villawood detention centre, what was achieved by removing her so quickly?

Did the government go to the lengths of chartering a RAAF flight to get Abyan out of Australia to escape a court hearing for an injunction to stop her removal?

This is a young woman whose mental and physical health is shaky. It is reported that she has last 10 kilograms in the past month. She was in the emergency department of a hospital in Nauru for two days just to be well enough to fly to Australia last week according to her lawyer. So why was Abyan put on a chartered flight back to Nauru so quickly?

It was a question that Radio National host Fran Kelly put to Minister Dutton several times earlier today. Each time he failed to answer it directly.

He didn’t waiver from his position, which was that Abyan, or ‘this lady’ as he referred to the refugee throughout the 18 minute segment, was provided with medical treatment, changed her mind on wanting an abortion and was consequently airlifted back to Nauru.

“The advice to me was absolutely clear: that the lady after all of this consultation, and the lady had decided this particular concern of action [not to terminate the pregnancy]… after the lady made the decision having received all of that consultation, the decision was then made to airlift the lady back to Nauru.”


Dutton repeated several times that there are inconsistencies in the version of events that is being offered by various refugee advocates and Abyan’s lawyer. He admonished those for “making mischief” by trading off this woman’s difficult circumstances.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

“I have a desire to help this lady,” Peter Dutton said. “If we weren’t going to allow medical consultation, why did we spend money flying her to Australia and back? It defies common sense.”

Fran Kelly offered a different take on ‘common sense’.

“Doesn’t it defy common sense to have someone here for five days and fly her home? It’s clearly a major decision, she’s unwell. Isn’t it possible that she was in no fit state to be travelling and to be making this decision?”

Isn’t it also possible that no 23-year old woman who has fled persecution in one country, been placed in detention in another, where she was raped and impregnated, might not be in a ‘fit state’ to make a decision in just five days?

Isn’t it also possible that a young Somalian woman who has lived through this physical and psychological trauma might be reasonably fearful of what an abortion will entail? Isn’t it possible that it would be quite terrifying?

It is difficult to determine what harm there would have been in providing Abyan with another week of medical treatment and care.

Today’s Fairfax-Ipsos poll confirms that the coalition is on firm footing with Malcolm Turnbull at the helm. The new Prime Minister’s approach to leadership is more considered, nuanced and compassionate than his predecessor’s. The difference was particularly stark in the recent address he made in relation to the Parramatta police shooting. His style clearly resonates with voters.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership style is more compassionate and resonates with voters. What do voters make of our treatment of refugees?

I wonder how Minister Dutton’s stance towards Abyan will resonate? Last week he was adamant that he will not be blackmailed by refugees seeking medical care in Australia. The idea of a group as powerless as refugees on Nauru holding the Australian government to ransom is implausible; the only power they have, is the power to appeal to Australia’s conscience which in Abyan’s case may have helped.

Fran Kelly today asked Peter Dutton whether this case – a 23 year old woman who increasingly looks likely to have an unwanted child in Nauru – is the case worth pursuing a hard line on. And not on her migration status as Dutton attempted to argue, but on her health care.

Was Abyan so hastily sent back in a bid to send a message to other refugees that this government won’t be played ‘for mugs’ as Dutton said last week?

As hotly political as the issue of asylum seekers is, at the heart of the issue is the humans who bear the brunt of Australia’s cruelty towards refugees.

The fact some people use this to pursue their own political agenda does not diminish that. If Abyan had been treated with patience and compassion, what agenda would anyone be pursuing?

Abyan is a woman who has fled living torture in Somalia, to land in Nauru where she faced – and continues to face – a different form of torture. If this is the woman or the case that Australia’s stance towards refugees turns on, then a new political agenda is needed.