Australian recalls ‘terrifying’ moment female passengers strip-searched in Qatar

Australian Foreign Minister Marine Payne speaks during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (AP Photo)
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Updated 30 October 2020

Australian recalls ‘terrifying’ moment female passengers strip-searched in Qatar

  • Women told to remove underwear without explanation as authorities tried to establish mother of abandoned baby at Doha airport
  • Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said the incident was ‘a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events’

LONDON: An Australian woman has recounted the moment female passengers were removed from a Qatar Airways flight in Doha to be strip-searched without permission in an airport carpark. 

Kim Mills said she was “terrified” after she and eight other women were asked to leave the plane, bound for Sydney, on Oct. 2 without explanation, as authorities tried to identify the mother of an infant who had been found abandoned in the toilets at Hamad International Airport.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said the incident was “a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events.”

After boarding the flight and changing into more comfortable clothing in order to sleep, Mills said the aircraft was delayed without the crew being able to give the 34 passengers any details as to why.

“Every hour, the captain or the co-pilot came on (the intercom) and apologized for the delay, saying that he was waiting for permission to taxi,” Mills told Guardian Australia.

“And I just went back to sleep. I was finally woken, I guess it was three hours later, by the head steward actually shaking me awake. He said I had to get my passport and leave the plane,” she added.

“I thought: ‘What are you talking about, what’s going on?’ He said: ‘The police need to talk to you, and you need to get your passport and come straight away’.”

She said she was led off the plane with the other female passengers, and when she asked a female guard what was happening, she was told: “You’ll find out when we take you downstairs.”

Mills continued: “They took me downstairs in a lift which felt like you were going down to the bottom of the airport. And then I came out of the lift and there were two officers … I thought: ‘What are they doing with me, where are they taking me?’ All of these things are going through my head. I still didn’t know the reason … I noticed they had at least two ambulances lined up … I thought: ‘Oh, they’re going to do a coronavirus test, they must be doing all the females first.’

Mills added: “They told me to step forward, to go into the ambulance, and as I stepped forward another officer … stood in front of me and said: ‘No, no, you go, you go.’ As I was standing there with this officer telling me to go, a young lass came out of the ambulance, and she was crying and distraught.

“I just turned around and started walking with her trying to comfort her. I said: ‘What’s wrong, what’s going on?’ And she told me that they’d found a baby in the bathroom at the airport and they were examining all the women.

“I was the luckiest one on the whole flight because I have grey hair and I’m in my 60s. They probably looked at me and thought: ‘Well, that’s impossible, it could not be her’.”

Afterward, Mills said, they were taken back upstairs to an interview room to provide their flight details, before being put back on the plane to Sydney.

The airline staff were “absolutely horrified” when they learned what had happened, she added.

“My legs were just wobbling; I was just so pleased to be back on the plane because I was terrified they were going to take me away somewhere … Why didn’t they explain to us what was going on? It was horrible, not knowing, to me that was one of the worst parts of it.”

Mills said the crew apologized to them over the intercom upon the plane’s arrival in Sydney. She added that the women involved discussed what had happened as they waited for 90 minutes to travel by bus from the plane to the airport terminal.

Some of them revealed that they had been instructed to remove their underwear in order to be examined.

One of the women collected the contact details of her fellow passengers to hand over to Australian police.

“It was absolutely terrible,” Mills said of the ordeal. “I can’t imagine what it was like for those poor young girls, it must have been horrendous … I don’t know why they had to put (the other women) through that, I really don’t.”

Payne said: “We have made our views very clear to Qatari authorities on this matter. This is an extraordinary incident and I have never heard of anything occurring like this in my life.” 

She added that Australia’s government has formally raised the issue with the Qatari ambassador, along with a demand for an investigation to be launched.

Libyan deputies pledge to end divisions

Updated 28 November 2020

Libyan deputies pledge to end divisions

  • At the end of talks, 123 of the parliament’s 180 members pledged to put an end to “hate speech” and “divisions”
  • They vowed to hold “parliamentary elections and to complete the transition as soon as possible”

TANGIER: More than 120 Libyan deputies pledged Saturday in Morocco to “end the divisions” that undermine their country, starting by convening the elected parliament as soon as they return home.
The House of Representatives has not met for two years, and Libya has been wracked by violence and chaos since the toppling and killing of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Two rival administrations have been vying for control of the country — the Government of National Accord and an eastern administration backed by part of the elected parliament.
The latter is deeply divided, with sessions taking place in parallel in the east and west.
At the end of five days of talks in Tangier, Morocco, 123 of the parliament’s 180 members pledged on Saturday to put an end to “hate speech” and “divisions” that undermine Libyan institutions.
They vowed to hold “parliamentary elections and to complete the transition as soon as possible,” and that all members of the House of Representatives would meet in session “as soon as they return” to Libya.
The session will take place in Ghadames, a desert oasis near Libya’s borders with both Algeria and Tunisia.
Ghadames is considered to be far from the centers of power.
“Having 123 deputies at the same table is in itself a success,” Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said.
“Libya needs a House of Representatives that plays its role... The next meeting in Libya will have a great impact on political dialogue,” he said.
The talks come at a time of increasing moves to break the deadlock in the country, which has Africa’s biggest oil reserves.
In mid-November, a UN-sponsored political dialogue forum in Tunis agreed to hold elections on December 24, 2021, but not on who will lead the transition.