A Somali refugee raped on the Pacific island of Nauru could be taken to Australia to receive an abortion, Australian immigration minister Peter Dutton hinted at on Friday 9 October. The announcement came after pleas from the rape victim to prime minister Malcolm Turnbull earlier in October, begging for her to be allowed to go to Australia for an abortion. Dutton has now indicated that she will be allowed to go to Australia if she cannot receive medical assistance on Nauru or Manus.
Abortion is illegal on Nauru unless it is being carried out to save the woman's life or to preserve her physical and mental health. Additionally, abortion in Nauru requires the approval of two physicians and written consent from the woman's spouse.
"If people require medical assistance, they will receive it," said Dutton. "Whether it is on Nauru or in Australia, they will receive it. But I have been very clear about the fact that people aren't going to settle in Australia if they have sought to come by boat. People – at the appropriate time – will return back to Nauru, that is the government's policy."
George Newhouse, the woman's lawyer, said earlier in the week that "time is quickly running out" for her. The 23-year-old rape victim is believed to be 12-weeks pregnant and is one of two Somali women who came forward to claim they had been raped in Nauru. ABC News broadcast footage of the moment one of the victims was found by Nauruan police after she was raped. The video was filmed in the dark as the woman hid in the bushes and made the call to the police, pleading with them to help her.
The two rapes are the latest in a series of sexual assault allegations coming from Nauru. In May an Iranian asylum seeker was allegedly gang-raped by three men on Nauru. The 23-year-old woman was found naked, disorientated and badly beaten after having gone missing for more than three hours. The woman also had bruises and bite marks on her body and has attempted to commit suicide since the attack. No arrests have been made so far.
Australian government policy states that anyone who tries to reach Australia by boat as refugees will be held in offshore centres, like the one in Nauru. However, on Monday 5 October Nauru said it would open the detention centres and allow refugees to move freely around the island. Nauru also said that it would be processing around 600 outstanding claims for refugee status within one week.
Last month an Australian senate report revealed that conditions on Nauru were not "appropriate or safe" for refugees and ordered the government to remove children from the centre. Rights group have consistently questioned the conditions faced by detainees on the island, with it becoming increasingly difficult for journalists to obtain access to the region. In October 2015 the Guardian reported that local Nauruan media would be allowed to visit the site, but an $8,000(£5,000) local fee would still apply to international journalists. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera said on 9 October that Nauruan authorities told them "all media application [sic] is not approved".