Australia: Pregnant refugees denied abortions at Nauru detention centre
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Australia: Pregnant refugees denied abortions at Nauru detention centre

A WORKER at Nauru detention centre has highlighted the plight of four pregnant asylum seekers who are being denied necessary overseas medical treatment, in defiance of doctors’ recommendations.

In a leaked letter obtained by Buzzfeed News, the employee – who wishes to remain anonymous – claims they are “extremely concerned” about a new policy regarding women seeking terminations.

In the past, requests for terminations have been handled by the International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) and the Australian Border Force (ABF). Under these circumstances, approximately 15 women travelled to Australia to undergo an abortion due to the low quality medical services on Nauru, the letter states.

However, this process has been changed in recent weeks to require approval from the Overseas Medical Referral (OMR) committee at the Republic of Nauru Hospital, before being transferred to the ABF.

Abortion is illegal in the devoutly Christian country, leaving the OMR with no choice but to refuse the requests or risk breaking the law.

The whistleblower claims all four of the women’s claims were denied last week by the OMR, raising serious concerns for the women’s wellbeing and mental health.

SEE ALSO: Australia: US refugee swap again in doubt as officials exit Nauru

“These four women already have significant mental health problems,” the letter reads. “Giving birth and raising a child in Nauru would only increase their mental health burden.

“I am concerned that these women will self harm, attempt suicide, or attempt a home abortion,” the anonymous staff member said.

The letter accuses the ABF of adding the extra step in the process purely to stop women from travelling to Australia, knowing full well that it is “guaranteed that approval will not be given”, effectively making it a de-facto ban on terminations for refugees.

Refugees and asylum seekers brought to Australia for medical treatment often exercise their rights before the courts, and seek injunctions preventing them from being returned to the detention centre. These are regularly granted by Australian courts.

According to the letter, several pregnant women in the past have refused the abortion once they reach Australia and continue to live in the country with their children in community detention.

The Guardian has also identified more than 45 other refugees and asylum seekers who are being refused medical treatment in Australia for a variety of ailments, including musculoskeletal injuries and surgeries that cannot be performed on the island.

SEE ALSO: Nauru has ‘best practice’ in the world for asylum seekers – president

Pregnant refugees face a number of hurdles when it comes to receiving adequate healthcare on the tiny island state.

In February, a heavily pregnant Kuwaiti refugee was forced to wait for days to be evacuated after being diagnosed with the potentially life-threatening condition preeclampsia. Intense lobbying from Australian doctors, including the president of the Australian Medical Association Dr Michael Gannon, was needed before the 37-year-old was airlifted to Australia for an emergency C-section.

In a disturbing case last year, an Australian Federal Court ruled that it would not be safe or legal for a pregnant African refugee — who was raped on Nauru while unconscious and suffering a seizure — to have an abortion.

The victim was later flown to Papua New Guinea for the procedure.

Australia’s hardline immigration policy requires asylum seekers intercepted at sea trying to reach Australia to be sent for processing to camps at Manus and on Nauru. They are told they will never be settled in Australia.

Living conditions on both Manus and Nauru have faced heavy criticism from the United Nations and human rights groups.

The anonymous letter ends with a plea aimed at news organisations to “help challenge this current policy which denies women the right to end their pregnancy.

“If things do not change, these women will unwillingly become mothers, if they do not kill themselves first.”