Eleven people were arrested today occupying the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s Lee Street office in Sydney to highlight what they see as the Federal Government’s contradictory stance on violence against women.
Around 20 students and refugee advocates entered the building foyer shortly before midday demanding a 23-year old Somali woman’s desperate plea for access to abortion services in Australia be met after she was allegedly raped while being held in immigration detention on Nauru.
“Malcolm Turnbull has made addressing domestic violence a feature of his government, but if he is concerned about violence inflicted against women then he must end the violence against refugees in the government’s care,” said Erima Dall, a spokesperson from the Sydney University Campus Refugee Action Collective.
“It is simply grotesque that a woman who has been raped and needs an abortion is so far being refused passage to Australia.”
Pressure has been mounting on Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to allow the woman to receive medical care in Australia, and the Greens Spokesperson on Immigration Sarah Hanson-Young wrote to Dutton today “requesting that he act urgently”.
“Here we have a 23 year old refugee, left stranded on Nauru by the Australian Government, and after allegedly being raped and assaulted by a local man, she needs assistance and care,” Hanson-Young said.
“Minister Dutton and his department have known for weeks that this young woman needs to be transferred to Australia to terminate this unwanted pregnancy.
“She has been pleading with Australian authorities for weeks and they have done nothing.
“Abortion is illegal on Nauru and the only option this young woman has for a safe and legal termination is to be brought to Australia.
“Sadly their lack of action has meant she will now need a late-term abortion.
“She is scared, distressed and physically unwell. Leaving her in Nauru is simply unacceptable.
Erima Dall said it would be “a shocking act of violence” for Turnbull to “force her to give birth, or leave her to some other fate” on Nauru.
This morning Labor leader Bill Shorten said that he is “deeply shocked” by the revelations, first aired on ABC’s 730 program, and that the government should not be “acting like robots with no hearts” and must ensure the woman gets the care she needs.
He described the situation as a “travesty of justice”.
Another woman who was also allegedly raped on Nauru is reported to have waited four hours for police assistance. These are the latest in a rising tide of allegations of sexual assault in Australia’s offshore immigration detention network.
New Matilda understands the protestors occupied the Department of Immigration and Border Protection building for around 90 minutes, before police moved in and made arrests.
“About midday… police from Sydney City Local Area Command were called to a building on Lee Street, Sydney, following reports of a protest,” a spokesperson for New South Wales police told New Matilda.
“A number of people were directed to leave the building; 11 people failed to comply and were arrested.”
Marco Avena, one of the demonstrators who left after police issued protestors with a move on order, said the activists “entered the building and started chanting, then some staff decided to stop serving customers”.
“They started filming and eventually security and staff made them leave the building,” he said.
“After maybe five or ten minutes of them telling us [to leave]they closed the reception area that we had occupied.
“Slowly more police arrived out the front of the building until eventually we received a directive to leave, and then we were issued with a move on order.”
The concern expressed over the woman seeking an abortion, who has been identified by media as ‘Abyan’ (not her real name), follows significant movement this week around the conditions of asylum seekers held on Nauru.
On Sunday the Nauruan government announced that the detention facility would become an “open centre” the following day, meaning the people held there will be free to roam the island. Then on Monday, it announced it will process the 600 asylum seekers still held at the centre by the end of this week.
But Dall maintains that “offshore processing and so-called ‘re-settlement’ on Nauru will never be safe”.
“The constant rapes and attacks we have seen are not an accident – offshore processing is designed to be a horrible deterrent,” she said.
While details are still emerging about the exact changes to detention on Nauru, safety of asylum seekers in the community has been a major issue since people started to be released from closed detention.
Those found to be refugees and allowed into the community are not eligible to stay in Nauru permanently. Cambodia, which has agreed to take a number of refugees from Nauru, has facilitated the settlement of just four people since signing a Memorandum of Understanding — at a price of $55 million — with Australia in September 2014.
“As long as the Australian government continues to dump vulnerable people beyond the reach of justice, they will continue to be preyed upon,” Dall said.
Hanson-Young said “Turnbull needs to pull his Immigration Minister into line and get this woman the help and care she urgently needs”.
“If Malcolm Turnbull wants to end the suffering of the refugees on Nauru he must bring them to Australia and get them off the prison island.”
Police said the 11 protestors arrested were taken to Day Street Police station in Darling Harbour.
*This story was updated at 6pm