More than a dozen female passengers were subjected to “invasive” and “humiliating” internal exams in Qatar after a newborn infant was found abandoned at the Doha airport, Australian media have reported, in an incident the country’s government protested as “offensive” and “grossly inappropriate”.
The outcry came after Seven Network News reported on Sunday that passengers at Doha’s Hamad International Airport (HIA), including 13 Australians, were removed from flights, detained and “forced to undergo an inspection” in an ambulance on the tarmac.
The women, on board a Qatar Airways flight bound for Sydney, “had their genitals invasively examined, without their consent”, the broadcaster said, adding that none of the passengers was told about the newborn child before the “strip searches” began.
The HIA did not deny the incident. In a statement late on Sunday, 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.
The child remains unidentified but is safe, the statement added, appealing for anyone with information or knowledge of the child’s mother to come forward.
One man on board the flight, QR908, 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 flight was reportedly delayed by four hours as the women were examined.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade called the treatment of the passengers on board the Qatar Airways flight “unacceptable”.
“The advice that has been provided indicates that the treatment of the women concerned was offensive, grossly inappropriate, and beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent,” it said in a statement.
“The government has formally registered our serious concerns about this incident with Qatari authorities.”