Sarah Hanson Young: Australia needs to know there is a better way for refugees.


The fight to save the women on Nauru has become desperate. They are not safe there and, if we don’t act quickly, lives will be lost.

Two conversations are going on in Australia right now. One says that women need to be protected from domestic violence, that Australian women deserve to feel safe where they live and that anyone who contributes to that violence is, to quote our current Prime Minister, ‘Un-Australian’. The other conversation says that women and children who came to Australia seeking a safe place to live deserve to be dumped on Nauru where they are being threatened, abused and raped at a terrifying rate.

One of these conversations needs to change, and I think it’s clear which one.

There are disturbing stories emanating from Nauru almost daily and, while they are hard to listen to, they need to be shared so that the truth of Prison Island can be known. There is a young Somali woman on Nauru who has been raped. As a result of that assault she is now pregnant and she wants to terminate, but abortion is illegal in Nauru. So far, the Turnbull government has refused to bring her to Australia for the procedure and she is now more than 12 weeks pregnant.

This woman fled a war zone, she asked our government for help and was instead put straight back into harms way on Nauru. She now needs our care because of the shocking trauma she endured as a result of our government’s policies and the answer has been, to quote our former Prime Minister, ‘nope, nope, nope’. The sheer brutality of that is almost unthinkable.



There are other women, some who were raped in the camp and others who were raped in the community. Some have been transferred to Australia because of the injuries they suffered in those terrible attacks. Some, like this young Somali woman, are being left on the island to fend for themselves.

The big lie is that this type of cruelty is some sort of unfortunate necessity. The government says that Nauru, Manus Island, the secrecy and the cruelty towards women and children are all worth it because they’ve stopped the boats. They say that it’s acceptable to deny people their rights and to see them die a slow death as they’re tortured both mentally and physically because the alternative is worse.

Australia needs to know that there is another option. We could be processing people’s claims for asylum in the region, before they are forced onto boats in the first place. Refugees only accept the dangers of the ocean voyage because there is no other way to safety. We need to work with the UN to set up processing centres in Indonesia and Malaysia and then, when we know who needs protection and who doesn’t, we take those in need and send the others home. That way we could care for refugees without locking them up on Prison Island and throwing away the key.

Nauru people

And that’s what we’ve done to the men, women and children on Nauru. They have no future on the island. The Nauruan government have made it very clear that they don’t want them there permanently and the deal to resettle them in Cambodia, with its multi-million dollar price tag, has clearly collapsed. There is nowhere for them to go and it’s time for our new PM to end the shame and bring these people back to Australia.

Malcolm Turnbull says he wants to see an end to domestic violence in Australia, but as long as he turns a blind eye towards the treatment of women and children on Nauru, the question needs to be asked; is it domestic violence or domestic politics that motivates him?

Prime Minister, we’re all waiting for your answer.


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