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Qatar to investigate 'invasive' exams of women at Doha airport

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image copyrightReuters
image captionFemale passengers were strip-searched and subjected to medical exams at Doha airport after a baby was found

Qatar has said it will investigate allegations that women booked on 10 flights were subjected to invasive examinations at an airport in Doha.

The women were checked for whether they had given birth after a baby was found in a bin at Hamad Airport on 2 October.

Eighteen women were taken off one plane - among them two British women and 13 Australian citizens - but not all were ultimately examined.

Qatar's government apologised and said the baby was safe in medical care.

It said the baby girl had been found in a plastic bag, buried under rubbish, prompting an "immediate search for the parents, including on flights in the vicinity of where the newborn was found".

"While the aim of the urgently-decided search was to prevent the perpetrators of the horrible crime from escaping, the State of Qatar regrets any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveller caused by this action," a statement read.

The government had directed a "comprehensive, transparent investigation" into the incident, and said it would share the results with other countries.

  • 'Grossly disturbing' strip-searches anger Australia

A spokesperson from the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office said they were "providing ongoing support to two British women" following the incident.

"We have formally expressed our concern with the Qatari authorities and Qatar Airways, and are seeking assurances an unacceptable incident like this cannot happen again."

Australia said it was receiving assistance from Qatar and co-ordinating efforts with "two or three" other nations whose citizens were affected.

Australian alarm

The invasive searches came to light this week after passengers contacted authorities in Australia.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Wednesday that women on 10 flights had been subjected to examinations. Beyond the 13 Australians, she did not reveal the nationalities of other women affected.

image copyrightEPA
image captionAustralia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne said women on 10 different aircraft faced the searches

Australian media have previously reported that all adult women who had boarded one plane from Doha to Sydney were ordered to disembark.

They were taken to an ambulance on the tarmac and told to remove their underwear before being examined.

Many were distressed afterwards and had received health support from the Australian government, witnesses said.

On Monday, Australia's foreign ministry said reports had indicated the incident was "beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent".

But it declined to label it sexual assault while awaiting further details from Qatari officials. Opposition politicians in Australia have called it sexual assault.

Australia has also referred the matter to its federal police.

Australia's foreign department secretary Frances Adamson told a Senate hearing on Wednesday that an Australian diplomatic official had been on the flight heading to Sydney.

She was not subjected to an exam, but reported the incident to the ministry immediately.

"I was incredulous that this could have happened," Ms Adamson told the hearing.

"This is not - by any standard - normal behaviour and the Qataris recognise that, are appalled by it, do not want it to happen again."

In its statement, Qatar said it was committed to ensuring the safety, security and comfort of travellers transiting through the country.

Doha's Hamad International Airport has remained open as a key transit hub for international travel amid the pandemic.

Related Topics

  • Australia
  • Qatar