Thirteen Australian women were subjected to "offensive" and "grossly inappropriate" medical examinations by staff at Qatar's Hamad International Airport after a newborn baby was reportedly found in a terminal bathroom, an Australian government spokesperson told The National on Monday.
After the baby was purportedly discovered on October 2, all of the women aboard Qatar Airways flight QR908 headed for Sydney were asked to disembark. The 13 Australians were then subjected to a medical examination aboard an ambulance waiting outside, Australia’s national broadcaster ABC reported.
It was not clear whether other female passengers were searched. One Australian woman in her 60s said she was asked to enter the ambulance but then told to go. "They probably looked at me and thought well, that's impossible, it could not be her," she told The Guardian newspaper.
Australian Foreign Minister and Minister for Women Marise Payne called the incident “grossly disturbing, offensive and concerning”. She said the case is now being handled by the Australian Federal Police.
"It is not something I have ever heard of occurring in my life, in any context," she said.
One of the passengers recounted the details of the coerced medical examination.
She was taken to a location outside of the airport where a woman wearing a mask asked her to “pull [her] pants down” to examine her genitals, she told ABC.
"No one spoke English or told us what was happening. It was terrifying," she told the network.
An Australian government spokesperson said the women were unable to give their “free and informed consent”.
Australia’s government has officially reported the incident to Qatari authorities and will work on the issue through “diplomatic channels", a spokesperson said in a statement.
Wolfgang Babeck, a Sydney-based solicitor who was also on the flight, said the plane was delayed for three hours before all the women on the plane were asked to disembark.
"Once they were gone, a security guard entered the plane and searched it for whether there was a passenger hiding on the plane. That was not the case," he told The National by phone.
“When they came back about half an hour or so later, there was obviously something disturbing that had happened because a woman was crying and many people were really upset and shell-shocked in disbelief.”
Hamad International Airport and the Qatari government did not reply to a request for comment.
A statement from airport officials to the Associated Press said the baby was still unidentified and was being cared for by medical and social workers.