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Australia, Qatar Diplomatic Row over 'Forcibly-Examining' Female Travelers

Australia, Qatar Diplomatic Row over 'Forcibly-Examining' Female Travelers

Thursday, 29 October, 2020 - 06:45
Women were removed from a Sydney-bound Qatar Airways flight earlier this month and forced to undergo vaginal inspections PETER PARKS AFP/File

Australia was left in a state of shock over Qatar’s invasive screening of dozens of female travelers, some of whom were Australian nationals, at the Hamad International Airport in Doha.

Female passengers from 10 flights were directed to ambulances where they were strip-searched and given invasive medical exams to see if they had recently given birth because a newborn had been found abandoned in a bathroom at the airport.

An official at Australia’s foreign affairs department said that Qatar was aware that its behavior is not normal by any standard and that it spurred panic.

The official voiced hopes for the incident not to be repeated.

Speaking to reporters in Canberra, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the invasive treatment of the women was “unacceptable” and “appalling” and his government would “continue to take a very strident approach” in seeking answers and ensuring it would never be repeated.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne reiterated that the Australian Government had formally registered its "serious concern" with Qatar, arguing the treatment of Australian women was "offensive" and "grossly inappropriate".

“It is not something I have ever heard of occurring in my life in any context,” Payne said.

Payne also revealed that Australia has also referred the matter to its federal police.

“Other countries affected absolutely share Australia’s views and the strength of Australia’s views,” said Frances Adamson, secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Australia was notified of the incident by a female Australian diplomat who was on the flight and was “shocked at what happened”, Adamson added. The Australian diplomat was not searched.

The incident, which took place on October 2, has embarrassed the Qatari government.

Qatar, for its part, on Wednesday expressed regret towards any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveler caused by this action.

Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani, Qatar’s prime minister, has ordered a “comprehensive, transparent investigation”, the Government Communications Office said in a statement.

Prior to the strip-search, a newborn baby girl was found in a plastic bag in a rubbish bin in “what appeared to be a shocking and appalling attempt to kill her”, the statement elaborated.

The decision to conduct intimate medical examinations of women transiting through Doha international airport was an “urgently-decided search” to find the mother of the abandoned baby.

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