At least 13 women who were due to fly to Australia with Qatar Airways via Doha Hamad International Airport have allegedly been subjected to invasive full-body strip searches that involved officials carrying out an examination of their genitals. None of the women are believed to have consented to the degrading strip searches that were ordered after airport cleaners found a prematurely born baby abandoned in a restroom in the terminal.
The Australian citizens, who were all due to fly on Qatar Airways flight QR908 from Doha to Syndey on October 2, were allegedly hauled off the plane one by one and then forced to strip naked in an ambulance that was waiting on the tarmac.
Qatari authorities are said to have made the women remove their underwear for a visual examination of their genitalia as they looked for evidence of childbirth. Women of other nationalities are also said to have been caught up in the operation. It’s not known whether any arrests were made.
The newborn was immediately provided with medical aid and the infant remains in Qatar in the care of medical professionals and social workers. The mother has not yet been identified.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said on Sunday that it had expressed “serious concerns” about the incident with Qatari authorities. Qatar’s official media office has not publicly commented on what happened and Qatar Airways has not responded to requests for comment.
In an emailed statement, Hamad International Airport explained that after the infant was found, medical professionals “expressed concern to officials about the health and welfare of a mother who had just given birth and requested she be located prior to departing HIA.”
“Individuals who had access to the specific area of the airport where the newborn infant was found were asked to assist in the query,” the statement continued.
A spokesperson for DFAT described the incident as “concerning” in a statement provided to the Sydney Morning Herald. The DFAT spokesperson continued: “We have 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.”
Human rights organisations have slammed the “disturbing” treatment of the women, with Samantha Klintworth of Amnesty International describing what happened as a “gross violation of these women’s human rights”.
“There needs to be a thorough and independent investigation and all of those involved need to be held to account,” Klintworth continued.
According to Seven News, the 13 Australian women have recently completed mandatory hotel quarantine and have since been reunited with their families. The Australian Federal Police have not opened their own investigation but are helping to support the victims.
Updated to include statement from Hamad International Airport.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.