The Immigration Department has defended its treatment of a pregnant refugee who is now back in Nauru amid conflicting claims over whether she changed her mind about having an abortion in Australia.
The 23-year-old Somali woman, known as Abyan, was flown to Sydney for an abortion last week after allegedly being raped on Nauru.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said she was transferred back to the Pacific island on Friday after telling medical staff she no longer wanted to go ahead with the procedure.
“We provided a charter flight for this lady to come to Australia, she received medical assistance and made a decision that she didn’t wish to go ahead with the procedure,” he told Radio National.
“I’m very, very concerned about the privacy of this lady, but I’m dragged into this debate to clear up what I think is a political motivation by some of the advocates.”
Mr Dutton also dismissed reports that the woman did not receive medical treatment while in Australia.
Speaking in Question Time, he gave a breakdown of dates and meetings, saying:
- She was transferred to Australia from Nauru on October 11, arriving in Brisbane
- She was then transferred to Villawood on October 12, and was reviewed by a mental health nurse and a primary care nurse. An interpreter was present.
- She was reviewed by a primary health care nurse and a mental health nurse on October 13, as well as a GP. An interpreter was present.
- She was reviewed by a nurse and doctor on October 14, followed by another review by a GP the following day.
The final October 15 meeting did not have an interpreter present, but Mr Dutton said it was then that Abyan “provided advice she didn’t wish to proceed with the termination”.
He said she was then chartered back to Nauru.
The woman’s lawyer, George Newhouse, said his client wanted more time to decide and released a statement from her that said she was denied counselling and an interpreter in Australia last week.
Immigration spokesman Neil Skill has rejected that, telling a Senate Estimates hearing that the woman was seen by both doctors and mental health nurses and made it clear she did not want to go ahead with the abortion.
“I’ve seen advice from two medical professionals indicating that she declined to undergo the procedure on the day and also declined the offer of a scheduled appointment in a week’s time,” Mr Skill said.
“Off the back of that information, I made the determination that there was no medical procedure at this time and that the individual should be returned to Nauru.”
Mr Skill told senators that he decided to charter a plane to fly the woman back to Nauru because there were risks involved with returning people to places they did not want to go.
“We needed to get [the woman] back to Nauru and back [to] the place where she is a settled refugee as quickly as possible because she made her decision and there was no longer a need for her to stay in Australia,” he said.
Immigration Department secretary Michael Pezzullo said the Australian Government’s role in the case was limited, given the woman was a refugee who had been resettled on Nauru.
“As part of her general standing as a refugee in Nauru, she’ll one day be resettled in a country other than Australia … she cannot be settled in Australia,” Mr Pezzullo said.
“In the meantime, if medical issues arise that are beyond the capacity of the Government of Nauru’s medical facilities, Mr Skill can repatriate people to Australia when all other options have been exhausted — he did that.”
Mr Newhouse said abortions were illegal on Nauru and his client would now be forced to have the baby, unless she was brought back to Australia again.
“When you ask her what her future is, it’s really a matter for the Prime Minister,” he said.
“The decision is with the Government.”
Mr Newhouse said he had not made any moves to apply for Abyan’s permanent stay in Australia but would talk to her again today about her future.
“We had no instruction to keep her in Australia under a migration ‘scam’,” he said, in an apparent reference to Mr Dutton’s claim last week that some pregnant asylum seekers on Nauru were trying to “blackmail” the Federal Government into letting them leave.
“When we heard an hour before she was being removed from the country without treatment that that was going to happen, of course we tried to stop her going back without treatment.
“But, that was a temporary injunction.”