Qatar: Women physically abused on Tarmac
Yep, that headline sounds dramatic.
It is being reported that Qatari authorities ordered all 13 female passengers disembark flight QR908 from Doha to Sydney on 2 October.
On disembarkation, the female passengers were each given an intimate examination to determine if they had recently given birth. These examinations were executed by female doctors in an ambulance located on the Tarmac of Hamad International Airport.
The women returned to the flight somewhat distressed before it finally departed for Sydney after a 4 hour delay.
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A prematurely born baby had been discovered alive and abandoned in a toilet within the airport earlier in the day. The intimate examinations of passengers were reportedly conducted as part of a quest to find the mother.
There are some discrepancies amongst reports. Some say the baby is dead and others that the examinations occurred in a basement not an ambulance on the tarmac. Only the experience of the Australian women has been reported so far. No reports of other women being examined have yet been reported.
The Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne has formally raised the matter with the government of Qatar:
“The Australian Government is deeply concerned at the unacceptable treatment of some female passengers on a recent Qatar Airways flight at Doha Airport,” she said.
The advice that has been provided indicates that the treatment of the women concerned was offensive, grossly inappropriate, and beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent.
The Government has formally registered our serious concerns about this incident with Qatari authorities.”Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs
The Airport’s statement
The authorities at Hamad International Airport issued a statement assuring that the baby was well and in medical care:
“At this time, the newborn infant remains unidentified, but is safe under the professional care of medical and social workers.
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].”
Of course, the passengers on the flight were subject to Australian 14-day hotel quarantine restrictions, so after the trauma of the examinations and flight, they were then sent to hotel quarantine. Fortunately NSW Police who oversee the quarantine process had psychological support in place:
“NSW Police is aware of an incident in Doha in early October, involving a number of women returning to Australia. Those women completed mandatory quarantine in NSW, during which time they were provided with medical and psychological support by NSW Health.”
I love digital, except when my phone dies, which happened to me on the last night of my recent visit to New Zealand
It looks like there is even more to this story. It is not clear whether other flights were affected – although at the moment reports are limited to the Australian flight. The mother has not been found. A passenger from the flight, although not one of the women examined, has already appeared on Australian media. You can hear an interview with one conducted on ABC Radio National Breakfast this morning.
This is a shocking event, although conducted with apparent good intent – to assist the mother of the baby.
At best it demonstrates some cultural differences about the place of women in Australian and Qatari society. At worst this is an outrageous infringement of the examined women’s human rights, not to mention dignity.