An Open Letter To The Prime Minister About The Treatment Of Abyan


Law Students for Refugees, a student organisation at the University of Melbourne Law School, has written an open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, about the treatment of Abyan and respecting the rule of law.

Dear Prime Minister Turnbull,

We are writing to express our deep concern at the Immigration Department’s recent actions regarding Abyan, the pregnant Somali refugee who was recently flown from Australia.

The sequence of choices made by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton demonstrates a complete disregard for the fundamental requirements of the rule of law upon which this country is founded, as well as a profound incomprehension of the situation facing victims of gender-based violence.

Australia is built on the notion of the rule of law. We, as a country, subscribe to the belief that the boundaries of acceptable behaviour — including that of the government — should be laid down in democratically approved laws. These laws protect our rights and freedoms.

Our courts have the constitutionally mandated role and responsibility of fairly determining the scope of our legal rights and any disputes regarding them. Procedural fairness prevents the arbitrary exercise of government power. It is a vital element of the Australian legal system.

As law students and Australian citizens, we are dedicated to the ideals of the rule of law, and proud of our judiciary’s determination to accord procedural fairness.

Minister Dutton’s actions have completely undermined these ideals.

To remove Abyan from the country before her case could be heard was a blatant way of preventing her coming within the court’s jurisdiction. The application was for an injunction to prevent her deportation before receiving adequate medical attention.

Injunctions provide emergency legal protection from the actions of another party where they would result in irreparable injury.

All Australian jurisdictions recognise the right of women contemplating an abortion to seek counselling. Clearly, in the case of women who have been raped, access to emotional support is crucial.

Abyan asked for counselling. These requests were refused. She was given a four-day window in which to make a profoundly difficult decision, without access to her family, medical advice, legal representation or psychological support.

This treatment is simply inhumane. Depriving Abyan of the ability to come to an informed decision regarding her abortion breached her legal and human rights. The harm she will suffer by being shipped back to the community in which she was attacked — where she cannot legally seek a termination — is devastating.

Had Abyan’s injunction application been heard by the court, it seems almost certain that it would have been granted.

Abyan was on Nauru because of the government’s policy of refusing to settle boat arrivals in Australia. She has been found by the UN and by the Australian Government itself to be a refugee, within the meaning of the Refugees Convention.

This means that Australia, like any country, owes her its protection.

Nauru is not safe for women. Abyan was raped; she is not the only one. The Nauruan police have not investigated the attack, despite it being public knowledge since July. No charges, in fact, have been laid in Nauru in relation to any sexual assaults on refugee and asylum seeker women.

It is hard to view the Minister’s removal of Abyan from Australia as anything other than an underhanded attempt to prevent the question of Australia’s responsibility for Abyan and women like her being posed to the court.

Prime Minister Turnbull, we are pleased that preventing violence against women is a top priority for your government. But we cannot accept a policy that excludes refugee and asylum seeker women from protection, or a government that places vulnerable women in danger to avoid the scrutiny of the court, that insults the rule of law as this government has.

We ask you to reassess the policies regarding refugees and asylum seekers that have led us to the point of deliberately placing a rape victim, unprotected, back into the same community as her rapist.

We urge you to recognise the role of the courts in scrutinising government action. We demand that you respect the rule of law and right of women to live free from fear and violence.

Yours sincerely,
Law Students for Refugees

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