Australia refers invasive search of women at Qatar airport to federal police

Australia’s government has registered “serious concerns” with Qatar following a strip-searching scandal at Doha airport. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 October 2020

Australia refers invasive search of women at Qatar airport to federal police

  • The Australian government earlier registered ‘serious concerns’ with Qatar
  • Female passengers of Sydney flight forced to remove their underwear before undergoing invasive internal examinations

LONDON: An incident at Doha’s Hamad airport, where Australian women were taken off a plane and subjected to an invasive search after the discovery of a newborn baby abandoned in the terminal, has been referred to Australian federal police, Australia said.
A flight to Sydney from Hamad International Airport was due to leave on Oct. 2, but was delayed by more than four hours after authorities allegedly discovered a deceased new-born infant in the airport.
The Australian government earlier registered “serious concerns” with Qatar following an “offensive and grossly inappropriate” strip-searching scandal at the Doha airport.
All the female passengers on board the aircraft were ordered to disembark.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne on Monday confirmed the women had contacted the Australian government at the time of the incident, adding that it had taken up the matter with Qatar’s ambassador.
The “extraordinary incident” had also been reported to the Australian Federal Police, she said.
“This is a grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events,” Payne told media. “It is not something I have ever heard of occurring in my life, in any context. We have made our views very clear to the Qatari authorities.”
In a statement, the Australian federal police said they were aware of the incident, and were engaging with the department of foreign affairs and trade.
Australia expects a report this week from authorities in Qatar, Payne said.
There were significant concerns over the issue of securing consent for the medical examinations, she said, adding, “These are very private and personal matters.”
In a statement, the Australian government said reports indicated treatment “beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent.”
A doctor on the flight told Guardian Australia that the women returned some time later and that “most of them were very upset.”
“People could not believe what had happened.”
Dr. Wolfgang Babeck added: “At least one of them was crying, they were discussing what had happened and saying it was unacceptable and disgusting.”
The flight took off after the women returned. Babeck said he spoke with some of the passengers, who told him they were taken to a private area of the airport and subject to intrusive examinations.
“They were taken by security personnel into the cellar, not knowing what was going on. And then they were presented to a female doctor and they were basically strip-searched and had to take everything … off, all their clothes, even their underwear,” he added.
“And then the doctor would try to feel in the uterus and stomach area or lower abdomen to see whether they may have given birth recently. Someone had been told that a baby had been found in the toilet and they were trying to find out who the mother was.”
Other reports say aside from the 13 Australian women aboard the Qatar Airways to Sydney, who were forced to remove their underwear before undergoing invasive internal examinations in an ambulance parked on the tarmac, other flights were also affected.
A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) told Guardian Australia that it was “aware of concerning reports regarding the treatment, in Qatar, of passengers on a Qatar Airways flight to Sydney. DFAT is seeking further information from the Qatari authorities and Qatar Airways.”
On Sunday, DFAT issued an updated statement saying Australia’s government had “formally registered our serious concerns regarding the incident with Qatari authorities and have been assured that detailed and transparent information on the event will be provided soon.


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