CANBERRA – Australia on Monday condemned Qatar authorities’ treatment of female passengers on a flight to Sydney who were subjected to internal examinations after a newborn baby was found abandoned at a Doha airport.
The women, including 13 Australians, were examined at Hamad International Airport on Oct. 2 after Qatar Airways Flight 908 to Sydney was delayed.
Australia’s foreign affairs department described the treatment of the women as inappropriate and beyond circumstances in which they could give free and informed consent.
“This is a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne told reporters. “It's not something that I've ever heard of occurring in my life, in any context. We have made our views very clear to the Qatari authorities on this matter.”
Australia will await a report from the Qatari government before “we will determine the next steps,” Payne said.
She said the matter was reported to Australian Federal Police, but did not explain what action police might take. Police said in a statement they are working with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the matter and that further comment would be inappropriate.
The baby was still unidentified and was being cared for by medical and social workers, airport officials said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
Medical professionals were concerned for the mother’s health and had requested she be located, it said. “Individuals who had access to a specific area of the airport where the newborn infant was found were asked to assist in the query,” it added.
The statement did not acknowledge the forced examinations.
The women were examined in an ambulance parked on the tarmac, Seven Network News reported.
Wolfgang Babeck, who was returning home to Australia on the flight, said women were taken from the plane regardless of their age.
“When the women came back, many of them or probably all of them were upset. One of them was in tears, a younger woman, and people couldn’t believe what had happened,” Babeck said.
“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.
Babeck said no explanation was provided for why the departure was delayed for more than three hours or why women were required to leave the plane. He said the examinations were conducted by a woman.
The passengers are now in 14-day hotel quarantines in Sydney as part of coronavirus measures.
Qatar Airways and the Qatari government did not respond to questions from the AP on Monday.
In Qatar, like much of the Middle East, sex outside of marriage is a criminal act. Female migrant workers in the past have hidden their pregnancies and tried to travel abroad to give birth. Others have abandoned their babies anonymously to avoid prison.
Qatar, a small, energy-rich country on the Arabian Peninsula, is home to state-owned Qatar Airways, which along with Etihad and Emirates leverages its location to be a major hub for East-West travel. Its modern Hamad International Airport serves as the base for Qatar Airways’ operations and soon will funnel travelers into the country for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.