Female passengers said they were pulled from a Sydney-bound flight in Doha and given a medically invasive exam to see if they had recently given birth after an abandoned newborn was found in an airport bathroom.
The Qatar Airways flight bound for Sydney, Australia, had been mysteriously stalled on the tarmac in Doha for more than three hours when an announcement boomed through the cabin. All female passengers had to take their passports and disembark immediately.
They were marched from the plane and directed to ambulances, where, according to Australian officials and accounts from some women, they were strip-searched and given invasive medical exams to see if they had recently given birth because a newborn had been found abandoned in a bathroom at Hamad International Airport.
The episode in Doha sent shock waves through Australia, drawing anger and disbelief. It called into question Qatar’s treatment of women and threatened to tarnish diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Among the women who told Australian officials she had been examined while transiting through the Qatari capital on Flight QR908 was a 31-year-old Australian nurse who insisted she be identified only by her first name, Jessica, because of the personal nature of the exam.
“I was scared,” she said in an interview on Monday. “We were all, like, Can someone please tell us what is happening?” Speaking of the woman who examined her, she said: “All she said was ‘A baby has been found in a bin, and we need to test you.’”
The exam occurred on Oct. 2, but the experience of the women went public only after the Australian news station Channel 7 broke the news this weekend, and it ricocheted around the globe.
On Monday, the Australian government said it was demanding answers from Qatar Airways.
“The Australian government is deeply concerned at the unacceptable treatment of some female passengers on a recent Qatar Airways flight at Doha Airport,” the authorities said in a statement. The government called the passengers’ treatment “offensive, grossly inappropriate and beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent.”
The case has been referred to the Australian Federal Police, which said they were aware of the matter and would not comment further.
Qatar Airways could not be immediately reached for comment. Hamad International Airport said the newborn found abandoned at the airport was being cared for but remained unidentified.