Reminiscent of scenes from the Hulu television hit The Handmaid’s Tale, every single woman onboard a Qatar Airways flight preparing to depart Doha’s Hamad International airport for Sydney, Australia was hauled off the plane so that they could be strip-searched and medically examined for signs of recent childbirth. On Monday, it was confirmed that the “grossly disturbing” incident had been referred to the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
Two of the women caught up in the incident have now come forward, telling their story to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and confirming the invasive nature of the strip searches. Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne also said the women had contacted her department shortly after the incident.
The incident occurred on October 2 when cleaners found an abandoned newly born infant in a restroom in the airport terminal. In a statement, Hamad International Airport – which is part of the Qatar Airways Group – said medical professionals requested the mother be found out of fear that she might be in danger.
That, in turn, led to a series of events in which every single adult woman onboard Qatar Airways flight QR908 was asked to disembark before being led to a waiting ambulance where officials made them strip naked and then conducted an examination of their genitals. The women claim they did not consent to be searched.
After a delay of nearly four hours, the women were allowed back on the aircraft and it departed for Sydney. On their arrival in Australia, the women then had to endure a 14-day mandatory hotel quarantine period before being reunited with their loved ones.
Contrary to some media reports, a spokesperson for Hamad airport confirms that the infant is alive and remains in the care of medical professionals and social workers. The child’s parents have not yet been identified and officials have pleaded for anyone with any information to get in contact with the airport.
“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,” the airport said in an emailed statement. “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, without detailing exactly how they were asked to help.
At least 13 Australian women were caught up in the operation, although there are reports that women of other nationalities may also have been subjected to the degrading searches.
“This is a grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events,” Marise Payne told local media on Monday. “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,” she continued.
The Australian government says it is expecting a full report from the Qatari authorities within a week. One of the main issues will be whether the women provided consent for the searches – an issue that the government has already said may have been impossible given that their treatment was “beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent”.
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 used by some of the biggest names in journalism.