Australia protests invasive search of women in Qatar airport after newborn found

Australia’s government has said it is “deeply concerned” after women were taken off a Sydney-bound plane in Qatar and examined when an abandoned newborn was discovered in an airport bathroom.

“This is a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events,” Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said in a press conference on Monday. “It is not something that I have ever heard of occurring in my life, in any context, we have made our views very clear to the Qatari authorities on this matter.”

The incident, which occurred in Doha on Oct. 2, raises “significant concerns” about the women’s consent to a physical examination by medical professionals, Payne said.

There were 42 passengers on the Qatar Airways flight, around half of whom were women, according to passenger Wolfgang Babeck, a German lawyer who now lives in Sydney.

He described how the flight from Doha to Sydney was delayed and held on the tarmac for three hours. The women on the flight were then asked to leave the plane. After they left, security forces came onboard searching for anyone who had refused to disembark or who was hiding.

Half-an-hour later, the women returned, he said.

“It was apparent that something was wrong,” said Babeck. “One was crying, and the others were shell-shocked.”

During the flight, Babeck said he heard from the women and their partners about what they had experienced while in the airport.

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“As I understood it, they were escorted to terminal, presented to a female doctor who asked them to undress in the lower part and medically tried to assess if they had just given birth,” he said.

Outlets in Australia quoted unnamed women passengers who said they were examined, but NBC News was not able to reach any who were prepared to speak about their experiences.

A report by the Qatari authorities will be out shortly and the government will then decide its next steps, said Payne, who has also raised the incident with Qatar’s ambassador to Australia.

Passenger Kim Mills told The Guardian newspaper that she was one of the women pulled off the flight and she said that she was asked to go into a waiting ambulance. She, however, was not examined, she believes because she is in her 60s.

Outside of the ambulances, she described to The Guardian how she comforted one of the women who left the vehicle crying.

After their arrival, the women on the flight quarantined in Australia and were provided with support, Payne said. The matter has also been reported to the Australian Federal Police, she said.

Hamad International Airport said the newborn found abandoned on Oct. 2 had not been identified and was “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,” it 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.”

Qatar Airways didn’t respond to NBC News’ request for a statement.

Matteo Moschella contributed.

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