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As Australia courts the UN, its harsh immigration policies face scrutiny

Canberra has faced criticism for a case involving a pregnant Somali woman who claims she was raped in a detention camp. The controversy comes as the government launches its bid for the UN Human Rights Council.

Australia launched its bid to join the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, as controversy over a case involving a Somali refugee drew attention to the country's hardline immigration policies.

The woman, known only as Abyan, claims she was raped and impregnated while on the South Pacific island of

Nauru

, where Australia sends many of its asylum-seekers. Last week, the woman was flown to Australia after requesting an abortion, but her lawyer said today Canberra abruptly sent her back to Nauru without performing the operation it had said it would.

Lawyer George Newhouse told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio he was in the midst of preparing a court order allowing her to stay in the country when he found out she had already been flown back to Nauru.

"When we heard an hour before she was being removed from the country without treatment -- that that was going to happen -- of course we tried to stop her from going back without treatment," Newhouse said.

Government officials said lawyers are being dishonest about the woman's treatment, claiming she was sent back after reconsidering the abortion. But in a written statement Abyan said she had not changed her mind about the operation.

UN criticism

Australia has taken heat recently for its harsh immigration policies. Though the country has decided to take in 12,000 Syrian refugees, it has also faced criticism for holding refugees in detention centers on islands such as Nauru and Papua New Guinea, where claims of abuse are rampant.

The UN has

criticized

Australia for human rights-related issues in the past. In March, a report accused Australia of violating the Convention Against Torture, citing the country's detention of child immigrants and the poor conditions in Papua New Guinea.

Following the release of the report, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that "Australians are sick of being lectured to by the United Nations."

blc/jm (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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