“Offensive, grossly inappropriate” vaginal examinations of female plane passengers reported to Australian Federal Police

Doha city, Qatar - December 18, 2017: Interior of the New opened five stars Hamad International Airport  in Doha, Qatar

A troubling incident at Qatar’s Hamad International Airport involving plane passengers bound for Australia has been referred to the Australian Federal Police.

The incident, which saw Australian women taken off a Qatar Airways plane and subjected to an invasive search after the discovery of a newborn baby abandoned in a terminal, reportedly occurred on 2 October. However, it was not publicly reported until Sunday.

As many as 13 Australians were forced to remove their clothing and undergo a medical examination in an ambulance. While all adult women on the flight, regardless of age, were made to disembark for the examination, two of the women told ABC News.

One of the women told the national broadcaster that she is considering legal action over the “terrifying” experience.

On Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne confirmed the women had contacted the Australian government at the time of the incident. She said the government had taken up the matter with Qatar’s ambassador. She expects a report from Qatari authorities this week.

“This is a grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events,” Payne told media.

“It is not something I have ever heard of occurring in my life, in any context. We have made our views very clear to the Qatari authorities.”

Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong urged Qatari authorities to be “transparent”.

“These women should never have been subjected to this outrageous violation,” Minister Wong said. “Labor supports the government in registering Australia’s serious concerns with Qatari authorities.”

An Australian government spokesperson told Travel Weekly the government was deeply concerned at the “unacceptable treatment” of some female passengers on a recent Qatar Airways flight at Doha Airport.

“Reports indicate 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 spokesperson said.

“The government has formally registered our serious concerns about this incident with Qatari authorities. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is engaged on this matter through diplomatic channels.”

The AFP did not respond to Travel Weekly’s request for comment before deadline. However, in a statement to Reuters, it said they were aware of the incident, and were engaging with DFAT.

In a statement following the incident, Hamad International Airport said the newborn found abandoned on 2 October had not been identified and was receiving medical care.

“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],” the statement, obtained by Travel Weekly, 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.”

Travel Weekly has contacted Qatar Airways Group, which owns Hamad International Airport, for further comment.

The women reportedly received medical and psychological support on arrival in Sydney, and began their mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine, a spokesman for NSW Health told Reuters.

Qatar tarmac incident “not an isolated case”, law expert warns

In a statement following reports of the incident, Flinders University Associate Professor Marinella Marmo, a lecturer in criminology, said the Doha airport case was not an isolated event.

“This is not an isolated incidence. While the dynamics and reasons behind it may be different, the end result is very similar and violent: the woman’s body is for anyone to be intrusively scrutinised,” Professor Marmo said.

“Close scrutiny of government reports and court cases reveals that these types of search are routine practice at many border checks around the world.”

Professor Marmo added that these incidents are “mostly hidden” from public knowledge and hence covered up by official silence.

“The secrecy surrounding the data on intrusive body searching and the ever-expanding discretionary powers of immigration officers are cause for alarm also in Australia, UK, Canada and the US,” Marmo said.

“Indeed, the tendency towards secrecy and concealment erodes de facto existing protection of human rights.

“Intrusive and undignified body search on women has deep historical roots, as my colleague Dr Evan Smith and I have showcased.

“The virginity testing on women entering the UK up until 1982 on a fiancée visa demonstrates the persistence and normalisation of the aggressive search of the gendered body, even of travellers who are in possession of valid papers of entry.”

Featured image source: iStock/Train_Arrival

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