Australia yesterday condemned Qatari authorities’ treatment of female passengers on a flight to Sydney who were subjected to internal examinations after a newborn baby was found abandoned at an airport in Doha.
The women, including 13 Australians, were examined at Hamad International Airport on Oct. 2 after Qatar Airways Flight 908 to Sydney was delayed.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade described the treatment of the women as inappropriate and beyond circumstances in which they could give free and informed consent.
“This is a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events,” Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne told reporters. “It’s not something that I’ve ever heard of occurring in my life, in any context. We have made our views very clear to the Qatari authorities on this matter.”
Australia is waiting for a report from the Qatari government before “we will determine the next steps,” Payne said.
She said the matter was reported to Australian Federal Police, but did not explain what action police might take.
Police said in a statement they are working with the foreign affairs department on the matter and that further comment would be inappropriate.
The baby was still unidentified and was being cared for by medical and social workers, airport officials said in a statement.
Medical professionals were concerned for the mother’s health and had requested she be located, it said.
“Individuals who had access to a specific area of the airport where the newborn infant was found were asked to assist in the query,” it added.
The statement did not acknowledge the forced examinations.
It is understood that in addition to the Australians, one French woman was also affected, one official said.
The women were examined in an ambulance parked on the tarmac, Seven Network News reported.
Wolfgang Babeck, who was returning home to Australia on the flight, said women were taken from the plane regardless of their age.
“When the women came back, many of them or probably all of them were upset. One of them was in tears, a younger woman, and people couldn’t believe what had happened,” Babeck said.
“They told me they had to take their underwear off or their clothes from the bottom and then it was inspected whether they had given birth,” he added.
Babeck said no explanation was provided for why the departure was delayed for more than three hours or why women were required to leave the plane.
He said the examinations were conducted by a woman.
The women received medical and psychological support on arrival in Sydney, and began Australia’s mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine required for COVID-19 border control, a spokesman for health authorities in New South Wales said.
Qatar Airways and the Qatari government did not respond to questions as of press time.
In Qatar, sex outside of marriage is a criminal act. Female migrant workers in the past have hidden their pregnancies and tried to travel abroad to give birth. Others have abandoned their babies anonymously to avoid prison.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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