Australia’s Government on Monday condemned Qatar authorities’ after female passengers were subjected to invasive vaginal examinations after a premature baby was found abandoned in an airport bathroom. The women, including 13 Australians, were examined at Hamad International Airport on Oct. 2 after Qatar Airways Flight 908 to Sydney was delayed.
A source at Qatar Airways said that officials “were forcing women to undergo invasive body searches — basically forced Pap smears,” an internal examination of the cervix.
Australia’s foreign affairs department 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,” Foreign Minister 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 will await a report from the Qatari government before “we will determine the next steps,” Payne said.
Australian women examined in an ambulance
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 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 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 sent to The Associated Press.
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.
The women were examined in an ambulance parked on the tarmac, the Associated Press 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.
Qatar practices a strict form of Islamic law
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 Australian women are now in 14-day hotel quarantines in Sydney as part of coronavirus measures. Qatar Airways and the Qatari government did not respond to questions from the AP on Monday. The incident could damage Qatar’s reputation as it prepares to host tens of thousands of foreign visitors for the 2022 soccer world cup.
Qatar practices a strict form of Islamic law, with stiff penalties applied to women who fall pregnant or bear children outside marriage.
Doha airport on Sunday launched an appeal for the child’s mother to come forward, suggesting that the checks undertaken at the time were inconclusive.
“The newborn infant remains unidentified, but is safe under the professional care of medical and social workers,” it said in its statement, and requested that anyone with information come forward. – AP