Foreign women strip-searched at Doha Airport, Qatar promises investigation
Days after the invasive examination of women at Doha Airport triggered global headlines and threatened Qatar's diplomatic relationship with Australia, the Arab country has promised an investigation, reports said on Wednesday. Women on 10 flights were allegedly strip-searched this month after a baby girl was found in a bin at the Hamad International Airport. Of the women examined, 13 were Australian citizens. Here's more.
The infuriating incident got attention after Seven News reported on Sunday that women were alighted from Qatar Airways' flight and their "genitals were invasively examined" at the tarmac. One man, on-board the Sydney-bound QR908 flight, said the women were visibly upset after they returned. "One of them was in tears, a younger woman, and people couldn't believe what had happened," he said.
According to the man, these women were forced to take off their underwear to examine if they had recently given birth. Kim Mills, one of the women who was taken off, said she was absolutely terrified. "My legs were just wobbling. I was terrified they were going to take me away somewhere. Why didn't they explain to us what was going on?" she asked.
Mills, who is in her 60s, was let off. "They probably looked at me and thought well, that's impossible, it could not be her," she told The Guardian. Another woman, named Jessica, told NYT, "I was scared. We were all, like, 'Can someone please tell us what is happening?'." The incident happened on October 2 but gained attention only after a few Australian women complained.
The incident sparked disbelief in Australia, also raising concerns about the treatment of women in the Arab nation. Heather Barr, a lawyer and co-director of women's rights at Human Rights Watch, dubbed the incident unprecedented. "These examinations can constitute sexual assault. It's just not the right way to get help for the baby or for the mother," she said.
On Wednesday, Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne said women on 10 flights were affected. Further, Australia's Foreign Department Secretary Frances Adamson said an Australian diplomat was also on the flight but she was not examined. "This is not — by any standard — normal behavior and the Qataris recognize that, are appalled by it, do not want it to happen again," Adamson said.
The Qatari government broke its silence on Wednesday, saying the "search" was triggered by the discovery of a premature baby at the airport premises. "While the aim of the urgently-decided search was to prevent the perpetrators of the horrible crime from escaping, the State of Qatar regrets any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveler caused by this action," it said.
"His Excellency Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani, the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, has directed that a comprehensive, transparent investigation into the incident be conducted. The results of the investigation will be shared with our international partners," the statement added.
Separately, Australian PM Scott Morrison is expecting the probe to be conducted soon. "As a father of daughters, I could only shudder at the thought that any woman, Australian or otherwise, would be subjected to that," he said, adding that he would ensure there isn't a repeat of the incident. He added Qatar Airways was engaged in an important task of flying Australians, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Asked if Australia will seek an apology from Qatar or compensation for the women, Morrison said the investigation will dictate the further response. "There is no doubt in the mind of whether it's Qatari airlines or the government, about Australia's strong objections and views about this," he said. Meanwhile, the dumped baby is said to be under medical care in Doha.