Fury after Qatar 'forcibly examined' women at airport

0:00
play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Inside Hamad International Airport built in Doha. (Valery Sharifulin/TASS (Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images)
Inside Hamad International Airport built in Doha. (Valery Sharifulin/TASS (Photo by Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images)
  • A number of women were removed from their flight and examined for signs of childbirth after the baby was found in a bathroom at Hamad International.
  • A passenger described how she was told to remove clothing from the lower half of her body for an examination by a female doctor.
  • The Australian government described the procedures  as "grossly disturbing" and "offensive".


Female passengers flying from Qatar were subjected to invasive searches after a premature baby was found abandoned in an airport bathroom, in procedures the Australian government on Monday described as "grossly disturbing" and "offensive".

A number of women - including from Australia - were removed from their flight and examined for signs of childbirth after the baby was found in a bathroom at Hamad International in the Qatari capital.

Australia's government on Monday condemned the October 2 incident, which only came to light after Australian passengers spoke out, and said concerns had been lodged with Qatar.

"This is a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events. It is not something that I have ever heard of occurring in my life," Foreign Minister Marise Payne said.

"We have made our concerns very clear to the Qatari authorities at this point," she said, adding that the matter had also been referred to Australian Federal Police.

A source in Doha briefed on the incident told AFP that officials "were forcing women to undergo invasive body searches -- basically forced Pap smears," an internal examination of the cervix.

Passenger Wolfgang Babeck told AFP women returned to his flight from Doha to Sydney in a "shell-shocked" state, having been told to remove clothing from the lower half of their bodies for an examination by a female doctor.

"All of them were upset, some were angry, one was crying, but basically nobody could believe what happened," the commercial lawyer said, adding he thought the incident could be "a violation of international law".

That flight, Qatar Airways' QR908 to Sydney, was four hours late departing Doha as a result, according to air traffic website Flightradar24. It is not clear how many flights were involved.

In an official statement, Doha's Hamad International airport confirmed a broad outline of events, without providing details of the procedures, or the number of women and flights involved.

"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," the statement said.

"Individuals who had access to the specific area of the airport where the newborn infant was found were asked to assist in the query".

It is understood that in addition to the Australians, one French woman was also affected, according to one official.

Some of the group received assistance and mental health support while spending the last two weeks in quarantine, under rules put in place by Australian authorities to contain the spread of coronavirus.

A report from the Qatari authorities about the incident is "imminent" according to Payne, who admitted Australian officials were made aware of the situation by passengers "at the time of the flight".

The incident could damage Qatar's reputation as it prepares to host tens of thousands of foreign visitors for the 2022 soccer world cup.

Qatar practices a strict form of Islamic law, with stiff penalties applied to women who fall pregnant or bear children outside marriage.

Doha airport on Sunday launched an appeal for the child's mother to come forward, suggesting that the checks undertaken at the time were inconclusive.

"The newborn infant remains unidentified, but is safe under the professional care of medical and social workers," it said in its statement, and requested that anyone with information come forward.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
How has the delay in schools' opening impacted your life?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
It's a disaster! We're struggling to manage work and kids at home
41% - 1757 votes
It's a struggle, but we learnt lessons from last year's closures
20% - 838 votes
It's a relief, this second wave is bad and kids need to be at home
39% - 1691 votes
Vote
ZAR/USD
15.33
(-0.81)
ZAR/GBP
20.87
(-0.29)
ZAR/EUR
18.57
(-0.49)
ZAR/AUD
11.77
(-0.21)
ZAR/JPY
0.15
(-0.72)
Gold
1851.63
(-0.20)
Silver
25.23
(-0.37)
Platinum
1079.00
(-1.20)
Brent Crude
55.72
(+0.78)
Palladium
2312.00
(+0.10)
All Share
63957.29
(-0.93)
Top 40
58800.06
(-1.02)
Financial 15
11576.59
(+0.23)
Industrial 25
87371.13
(-1.69)
Resource 10
61952.17
(-0.49)
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo