UN demands Abyan not be returned to Nauru; Amnesty report condemns Australia

Rupert Colville, spokesperson for UN High Commission, decries treatment of Abyan

On Wednesday the woman called Abyan (not her real name) was returned to Australia to receive medical treatment. She was returned entirely because of widespread public outrage that she had been flown out of Australia back to Nauru, back to where she had been raped. Demonstrations demanding she be returned to Australia to continue her medical treatment, which had been abruptly ended by the Immigration minister, Peter Dutton, took place in every state in Australia. Most newspapers – in particular the Guardian and The Age – were scathing in their condemnation of how this Somalian refugee had been treated. The Guardian’s article on Abyan, published before her return to Australia, was the most moving of the accounts. The UN also made its dismay known in a dramatic intervention – see below and full statement in the Appendix – that, together with the rising anger of Australians, could have been the tipping point that saw the Australian Government adopt an uncharacteristic u-turn. But this victory for Abyan and justice is only the beginning. Decisive action must now be taken to ensure Abyan is not returned again to Nauru. Time must not be wasted: not one day or hour or minute. Meanwhile, Amnesty International has published a damning report confirming that the Australian Government paid people smugglers to hijack and turn back two – not one – boats laden with asylum-seekers and in doing so contravened several international laws. Thus the moral vacuity of the Australian Government is laid bare…

(Breaking… 1. PNG Supreme Court flags that the Manus sland offshore detention centre is unconstitutional, that the Australian-PNG Memorandum of Understanding is invalid and that the detention of asylum-seekers is unlawful and contrary to their rights. 2. A report by the Guardian shows that the use of force in onshore immigration detention centres has seen almost 3000 incidents over two years. 3. It has been revealed that just like ‘Third World’ dictatorships, the Australian Government threatened NGOs such as the Red Cross and Save the Children that had a presence in the offshore detention centres with million of dollars bankruptcy if they refused to agree to a gagging order – even Nazi Germany allowed the Red Cross access to PoW camps! 5. Australian Govt to auction asylum-seekers to highest bidder: Kyrgzstan is being approached, but ISIL offering more cash.)

First, the statement by Rupert Colville, Spokesperson for the UN High Commission for Human Rights: “We call upon Australia and Nauru to urgently provide a decent option for ‘Abyan,’ to obtain adequate mental and physical care and to terminate her pregnancy if she desires”… [Full statement in Appendix, below].

Probably the most likely way in which Abyan can be given her freedom is via a court order. Such a court order was sought when Abyan was last in Australia, some two weeks back, but that never happened, as the Australian Government secretly flew Abyan out of the country, back to Nauru, on a specially charted RAAF plane, where a few days later she was tormented by a Government PR agent – Chris Kenny – who pretends to be a journalist. By flying Abyan out in this way, the Australian Government effectively told the legal system in Australia to fuck off.

Now that legal system has an opportunity to be redeemed. This weekend – and as long as Abyan’s fate remains in question – people across Australia will demonstrate their support for her. This is the perfect time for an NGO or a legal team to step up and instigate fresh action on her behalf in the courts. An injunction to allow Abyan to stay in Australia indefinitely should be sought. The most tenable basis for seeking a ruling in Abyan’s favour would be to argue that should she be returned to Nauru, her safety could not be guaranteed (her rapist is still at large) and, indeed, her life would be in danger. This is a sound legal argument that, when accompanied by all the necessay evidence, is likely to succeed.

There are other possibilities that should be explored too: for example, New Zealand may step up to the mark and offer Abyan a visa. Nor is it without merit that a European country could extend to her a welcome.

It was Ben Doherty’s article in the Guardian that perhaps summed up all that can be said about Abyan: “Abyan’s situation has become emblematic of Australia’s serious questioning of a policy of sending asylum seekers to its tiny, impoverished client state in the middle of the Pacific. She has become the symbol of the calculated cruelty, of the contradictions and of the unsustainability of Australia’s $3bn offshore detention regime.”

Doherty’s adds: “Critics of the policies – a noisy, sizeable, and growing minority – argue offshore processing ignores the human cost of a detention regime designed to be brutal in order to deter others. Successive parliamentary inquiries and the government’s own investigations have found allegations of systemic sexual abuse of women and children, violence against men and boys, inadequate medical care and neglect on Nauru. Instances of attempted suicide and self-harm are common. Caseworkers report children constantly banging their heads against walls in frustration. Dozens of people have sewn their lips together. Rape victims refuse food for days and weeks.”

A victory for Abyan would be a small but significant one, though, ultimately, no decent Australian should rest until the entire asylum-seekers offshore processing program is ended and all those illegally detained are given their freedom.

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Abyan’s plea for help after her forced return to Nauru

Meanwhile there is evidence that Immigration Minister Peter Dutton lied in his account of what happened to Abyan. Guardian Australia revealed that International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) staff made the first request for Abyan’s urgent transfer to Australia on 16 September via a “request for medical movement” form, with two follow-up requests on 29 September and 6 October. On 8 October Abyan was found unconscious and was admitted to hospital in Nauru. On 9 October minister Dutton said: “There’s not been a case where the doctors have said to me that this person needs to come to Australia for medical assistance and we haven’t provided that support.” Abyan was found ‘not fit to fly out# of the island-state until 11 October. These were all unnecesary delays that only added to Abyan’s anguish.

Dutton’s lies are laid bare: he should either be sacked or he should resign.

See also: Australia’s asylum-seeker detention program: the four ICC submissions summarised

Appendix: statement by the Office of the UN Commission for Human Rights

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location:  Geneva
Date: 27 October 2015
Subject:  Nauru / Australia

We call upon Australia and Nauru to urgently provide a decent option for ‘Abyan,’ (the pseudonym of a Somali refugee) to obtain adequate mental and physical care and to terminate her pregnancy if she desires. Abyan was allegedly raped in Nauru in July, and is now 15 weeks pregnant as a result. She was returned 11 days ago from Australia to Nauru, without a termination having taken place.

OHCHR has been in direct contact with her. Abyan is in a very fragile mental and physical condition and is deeply traumatised by her experiences since the day of the alleged rape. She has refused to give information to the Nauru police about her attacker because she is understandably afraid of reprisals. She does not feel safe, given that her alleged attacker lives on Nauru, which is a very small island State with a population of around 10,000. OHCHR is concerned about reports that the Nauru police have failed to take action against alleged perpetrators of violence against women, particularly when the victims have been asylum seekers and refugees.

We are aware of a growing number of sexual assault and rape allegations since Australia restarted its policy of transferring asylum seekers to Nauru for processing in 2012. For instance, one Iranian asylum seeker was allegedly sexually assaulted last May. She was subsequently evacuated to Australia where she is still receiving medical treatment for both mental and physical consequences of the ordeal. Her brother and mother, however, have been left behind on Nauru and do not know when they will be able to reunite with her. Another Somali refugee has claimed that she was raped in August. The police report, which included the name of the alleged victim and details about the rape allegation, was inappropriately given to the media. No one has been arrested in any of these cases.

OHCHR is very disturbed by this trend, since impunity for such serious crimes increases the risk they will be repeated. It is a matter of particular concern that asylum-seeker and refugee women who have allegedly been raped or sexually assaulted are left in unsafe conditions, given their own vulnerable status and the close proximity of their attackers, and tend to be stigmatized by the population and by members of the Nauru police force. Women are also less likely to speak out if they fear reprisals and see little-to-no chance of justice being done.

For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org ) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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4 Responses to UN demands Abyan not be returned to Nauru; Amnesty report condemns Australia

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