Searches were reportedly carried out at Hamad International Airport in Doha on October 2 after staff found a newborn baby that was reportedly abandoned in the terminal.
The Australian government has expressed “serious concerns” to Qatar over the incident, which was first reported by Channel 7 News.
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Qatar Airways flight QR 908 to Sydney was held up on the tarmac for four hours for search, witnesses and the Australian government said. All the passengers, including 13 Australians, were reportedly removed from the plane for a strip search and examination in a waiting ambulance. It is not known how many non-Australian women have been affected.
Witnesses say they were forced to remove their underwear so their genitals could be invasively examined.
“No one spoke English or told us what was going on,” an Australian on the plane told ABC News.
An airport spokesperson defended the move, saying officials were concerned about “the health and well-being of a mother who had just given birth and demanded that she be located before departure. “.
“People who had access to the specific area of the airport where the newborn was found were asked to assist with the query,” the airport said in a statement to several outlets.
He added that the newborn is being treated but his mother remains unknown.
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Jessica, a 31-year-old Australian nurse on the flight, told the New York Times that she was “scared” throughout the experience. She requested that her last name not be shared.
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The woman who examined her offered only a brief explanation.
“A baby has been found in a trash can and we need to test you,” the examiner said, according to Jessica.
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The witness who spoke to ABC said all the women on the plane were forced to leave for research.
“There was an elderly woman who was visually impaired, and she had to go too,” the woman told ABC. “I’m pretty sure she was searched. ”
Another witness told ABC that investigators demanded that her vagina be examined and that she was not given any explanation or choice in the matter.
“I said, ‘I’m not doing that’ and she didn’t explain anything to me, ‘said the witness. “She kept saying, ‘We have to see it, we have to see it.'”
She says she tried to get out of the ambulance but there was nowhere to run, so she submitted for the exam.
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Kim Mills, an Australian passenger in her 60s, told The Guardian she was escorted off the flight with the others but was released from a last-minute search.
“As I was standing there with this officer telling me to go, a young girl got out of the ambulance and she was crying and distraught,” she told the Guardian. “I just turned around and started walking with her trying to comfort her.
“I was the luckiest of the whole flight because I have gray hair and I’m in my sixties. They probably looked at me and thought it was impossible.
Mills said Qatar Airways staff were “absolutely horrified” by the search and told him they did not know why it was carried out.
The Australian government condemned the incident and shared its outrage with the Qatari government and Qatar Airways.
“This is a crudely, extremely disturbing, offensive series of events,” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Monday. “It’s not something I’ve ever heard of in my life, regardless of the context.”
A spokesperson for Payne said the research was “beyond the circumstances under which women could give their free and informed consent.” However, Payne refrained from branding it a sexual assault when asked about the comment.
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Heather Barr, a lawyer for Human Rights Watch, said the exams could constitute sexual assault.
“I’ve never encountered anything like this before,” she told The New York Times.
She also described the search as a “very strange and abusive way” of finding a new mother in need. “This is just not the right way to get help for the baby or the mother.”
A spokesperson for Qatar Airways told Guardian Australia: “We appreciate the concerns and distress expressed to you by the Australian passengers you spoke to, and we will be investigating these matters with the authorities and officials concerned. ”
Australian Federal Police are investigating the case.
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