Refugee's Claim That She Was Raped, Denied Abortion Sparks Outrage

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Australia's policy on accepting refugees — and its decision to force some to live in offshore detention centers while they seek asylum — has sparked protests.
The case of a pregnant Somali refugee who says she was denied an abortion after she was raped while living on an island in the South Pacific is sparking outrage in Australia and beyond. The 23-year-old woman, called Abyan in media reports, was living on the tiny island nation of Nauru in July, according to various news reports.

Abyan was unable to get an abortion in Nauru, where some refugees seeking asylum in Australia are forced to live. After weeks of campaigning for care, she was reportedly transferred to Australia so she could receive a medical consultation and have the option to have an abortion.

But on Friday, officials moved to return Abyan to Nauru, where she had been living, saying she had changed her mind and refused medical attention, sources told the British newspaper The Guardian. Her lawyer said there was a misunderstanding and that his client "has not decided to refuse a termination" of her pregnancy. The firm's efforts to get an injunction to keep the government from moving Abyan were unsuccessful, the lawyer said, because she had already been flown out of the country.

Abyan's supporters blasted the latest developments in the case as inhumane and a war against refugee women.

In recent months, at least two refugee women have come forward to say they were raped in Nauru.

“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," Pamela Curr, of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, told The Guardian.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection and other officials did not respond to requests for comment from The Guardian.

Thousands of asylum-seekers in Australia have been transferred to offshore detention centers in Nauru and other places, since Australia tightened its immigration laws in 2012, according to statistics published by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Abyan had been released into the community and was living there at the time of the attack, Curr told Refinery29.

Serious allegations of assault and dire conditions have outraged human rights activists and have been the subject of protests in Australia. Curr told Refinery29 that two more women are currently hospitalized in Australia after being raped in Nauru.

The Nauru government has defended the treatment of asylum seekers there: "Refugees in the country are in no physical danger and stories of locals attacking them are largely fabricated to further political agendas and influence the Australian government," the Nauru government told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

Refinery29 has reached out to Abyan's attorneys, Shine Lawyers, and the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, but they were not immediately available for comment.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Abyan was raped at a detention center. She was raped while living in the community after she was released there, according to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

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