Australia seeks Qatar response over ‘grossly disturbing’ exams of women

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BBC.COM-image copyrightReuters

image captionThe incident happened on a Qatar Airways flight. File image

Australia says it has raised “grossly disturbing” reports with Qatar that women were strip-searched and examined before a flight from Doha to Sydney.

The incident happened after staff at Hamad International Airport found a newborn baby in a terminal toilet.

The baby remains unidentified and is being cared for.

Witnesses told Australian media that passengers had boarded the Qatar Airways flight before women were told to get off.

Thirteen Australian women were taken to an ambulance on the tarmac and told to remove their underwear before being examined, the reports said.

“When the women came back, many of them – or probably all of them – were upset, one of them was in tears, a younger woman,” a passenger on the flight, Wolfgang Babeck, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The Qatar government is yet to respond to the incident, which occurred on 2 October.

The Australian government said reports had indicated the treatment of the women was “beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent”.

When asked by reporters if that constituted sexual assault, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said: “No, I am not suggesting that because I have not seen the detailed report of the events.”

She said she had referred the “grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events” to the Australian Federal Police, and that Australia would “determine the next steps” after it received an explanation from Qatari officials.

Australia said it had been notified about the incident at the time and had “formally registered our serious concerns”.

A spokeswoman for Hamad International Airport said: “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 airport.

“Individuals who had access to the specific area of the airport where the newborn infant was found were asked to assist in the query,” said the airport in a statement.

Ms Payne said Australian officials had been in touch with the women after they arrived in Sydney and began 14 days of hotel quarantine, a current requirement for all returning travellers.

“They have been provided with appropriate support through the health process during that period,” she told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

She added: “This is an extraordinary incident and I have never heard of anything occurring like this in my life.”

The airport is seeking information about the mother, while the child is being cared for by medical and social workers.

 

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