Australia allows woman to leave Nauru detention camp for medical treatment

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - A woman held at an Australian detention centre for asylum seekers on the South Pacific nation of Nauru has been brought to Sydney for medical treatment, her lawyer said on Monday (Oct 12), in a sign that Australia's hardline immigration policies may be softening.

Australian media have reported that the woman is one of two Somali refugees who claim to have been raped on tiny and desolate Nauru.

Asylum seekers have long been a contentious political issue in Australia, although it has never received anywhere near the number of refugees currently flooding into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa.

Successive Australian governments have vowed to stop asylum seekers reaching the mainland, turning boats back when it can and sending those it cannot to detention in camps on Manus island in Papua New Guinea and on Nauru.

Harsh conditions at the camps, including reports of systemic child abuse, have been strongly criticised by the United Nations and human rights groups.

The Sydney Morning Herald and other media have reported that the woman is in Sydney to abort a pregnancy that she alleges was the result of rape. Abortion is illegal in Nauru.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton declined to comment.

The woman's Sydney lawyer, George Newhouse, said she was in Australia receiving medical treatment but did not elaborate.

"Our client has asked us to thank concerned Australians for their support and the (prime minister) and the minister for immigration for their understanding," Newhouse said. "We will continue to monitor the situation to ensure our client receives the treatment and care she requires."

New Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said last month that he was concerned about conditions in the camps. Australia's highest court is also considering whether the policy of sending asylum seekers to Nauru for long-term detention is in breach of the Constitution.

Dutton said last week inferences should not be drawn if the woman, whose name is being withheld for legal reasons, was brought to Australia.

"I have made my position very clear. If people require medical assistance, they will receive it. Whether it is on Nauru or in Australia," he said.

"But I have been very clear also about the fact that people aren't going to settle in Australia if they have sought to come by boat," Dutton said.

The ability of the Nauruan police to investigate allegations of rape was called into question last month in an investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.