This week a Somali refugee gave birth to a baby boy, one month premature, on Nauru. She reportedly suffered from pre-eclampsia which is a life-threatening condition. The woman, known as Naima, and the baby were each airlifted to Australia for treatment.
Naima is now in a critical condition in a Brisbane hospital. But she had experienced a seizure at 5 months gestation and there has been adequate time to have treated her before her situation became critical.
I had pre-eclampsia in my first pregnancy and a full medical team, in a well-equipped Australian maternity ward, swung into action. I was induced immediately the symptoms appeared. I was, fortunately, past my due date and the baby was successfully delivered. But I knew that everyone around me was gravely concerned. I only found out afterwards that my life had been in danger – just as Naima’s life is now.
Australia’s treatment of all asylum seekers must improve. But government must give immediate priority to the care of pregnant women and their infants. There is no reason for even a caretaker government to wait to change the clinical care afforded to pregnant women in Australian detention centres.
Hold all politicians to account for failing those in their care, but especially and immediately, the particularly vulnerable: pregnant women and babies.
The story of peaceful community activism to prevent baby Asha from being returned to detention on Manus Island has been celebrated. It is right and good that the outpouring of community – and professional – goodwill has at least delayed the return of the infant to what are reported to be the terrible conditions of the detention centre on Nauru.
Despite individual ‘wins’ – such as the baby Asha decision – Australia’s asylum seeker laws (and policies) involve unresolved systemic issues. As happy as I am for the temporary reprieve for the infant Asha and her family I cannot help but wonder if wins for individual cases, as important as they are, fail to gain any traction on the central issues.
I have rarely seen such a retweeted story in my timeline as Guardian Australia’s story about the secret repatriation to Nauru of the asylum seeker known as ‘Abyan’. This Somali refugee is pregnant, allegedly as a consequence of rape on Nauru. She begged to be brought to Australia for a termination and in the face of a widespread campaign, the Australian government did bring her here.
According to her lawyer, George Newhouse, she sought counselling before consenting to any medical treatment. Guardian Australia reports that in doing so, the Australian government took her failure to consent immediately as a refusal of treatment. While her lawyers were bringing an application for an injunction before the Federal Court, the Australian government chartered a flight and flew Abyan back to Nauru.
Abortion is illegal in Nauru.
This is not a story of the Australian government’s victory against deaths at sea. Nor is it a story about a ‘“racket” among refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru seeking to come to Australia for medical care’. This is a story about institutionalised violence against women and the responsibility of all citizens to act to stop it. It is a story about the hollow ring of ‘gender equality’ where violence against women is left to flourish.