Female passengers strip-searched after newborn baby abandoned at Qatar airport
More than a dozen female passengers were subjected to “invasive” and “humiliating” internal exams in Qatar after a newborn infant was found abandoned at Doha’s airport bathroom, Australian media have reported, in an incident, the country’s government protested as “offensive” and “grossly inappropriate”.
The women, who were on a Qatar Airways flight to Sydney on October 2, were subjected to an invasive search on the tarmac after a newborn baby was found abandoned at the airport.
In a statement late on Sunday, Doha’s Hamad International Airport (HIA) said the newborn infant was found at the airport on October 2 and a search for the mother was launched after medical professionals expressed concern about her welfare and requested that she be located prior to her departure.
“Individuals who had access to the specific area of the airport where the newborn infant was found were asked to assist in the inquiry,” HIA said, without stating what was asked of the women or how many people were affected.
Thirteen Australian women were taken to an ambulance on the tarmac and told to remove their underwear before being examined, reports said.
An ‘unacceptable’ treatment
Kim Mills told the Guardian she was among those taken off the flight and led into a dark car park, where three ambulances were waiting to perform medical examinations.
However, officials did not subject her to the examination due, she suspected, to her being in her 60s. Even so, she said, the experience was horrifying.
“My legs were just wobbling. I was terrified they were going to take me away somewhere. Why didn’t they explain to us what was going on?” she said, adding that airplane staff later told her they didn’t know what was happening.
“It was absolutely terrible. I can’t imagine what it was like for those poor young girls.”
Another man on board the flight told Australia’s ABC News that many of the women who were taken off the flight for the examination were visibly upset on their return.
“One of them was in tears, a younger woman, and people couldn’t believe what had happened,” Babeck told ABC.
“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.
The Australian government said reports had indicated the treatment of the women was “beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent”.
When asked by reporters if that constituted sexual assault, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said: “No, I am not suggesting that because I have not seen the detailed report of the events.”
She said she had referred the “grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events” to the Australian Federal Police, and that Australia would “determine the next steps” after it received an explanation from Qatari officials.