One of the 13 Australian women forced to undergo a genital examination at Doha’s Hamad Airport has revealed authorities locked the ambulance door before telling her to undress.
The passenger, who spoke anonymously to the ABC on Monday, said, “Everyone had gone white and was shaking. I was very scared at that point, I didn’t know what the possibilities were.”
Passengers on board Qatar Airways flight QR908 from Doha to Sydney on 2 October were asked to leave the plane to be escorted to ambulances for the invasive check, apparently carried out because staff found a premature baby abandoned in a bathroom.
The Australian was one of two that spoke to the Australian broadcaster and said she was with a group of about six women who panicked when they realised they were being told to leave the airport.
“When I got in there, and there was a lady with a mask on and then the authorities closed the ambulance behind me and locked it,” she said. “They never explained anything.
“She told me to pull my pants down and that I needed to examine my vagina. I said ‘I’m not doing that’ and she did not explain anything to me. She just kept saying, ‘We need to see it, we need to see it’.”
The woman continued that she was eventually let out of the ambulance and ran over to the other girls but added there was “nowhere for me to run”. She eventually removed her clothes and was inspected, and touched, by a female nurse.
A second witness said no one spoke English and said she would consider joining a class legal action if other passengers joined.
Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese called the incident “really disturbing” and “completely unacceptable”.
“The government has a relationship with Qatar, the government’s in a position to regulate a range of activities and I would have thought that it needs something other than just strong words,” he said.
The state of Qatar effectively owns both Hamad Airport and the flag carrier, Qatar Airways.
In June, Australian Aviation reported how Qatar Airways’ share of passengers travelling to and from Australia leapt from just 3 per cent to 44.5 per cent in April.
The jump meant the carrier, owned by the namesake state, was by far the biggest in terms of passengers carried – with previous number one Qantas slumping from 17.9 per cent to just 2.9 per cent.
Qantas is no longer flying commercial international flights other than specific government-supplemented flights, meaning many Australians attempting to return home will have little option but to fly with Qatar Airways and travel through Hamad.
The airline, which is owned by the state of Qatar, has made much of its decision to keep flying during the pandemic, launching a huge PR offensive using the slogan ‘Taking You Home’.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement, “The Australian government is aware of concerning reports regarding the treatment of female passengers, including Australian citizens, at Doha (Hamad) airport in Qatar.
“We have formally registered our serious concerns regarding the incident with Qatari authorities and have been assured that detailed and transparent information on the event will be provided soon.”
Steer your own in-flight experience – available on print and digital Whether our classic glossy magazine in your letterbox, daily news updates in your inbox, peeling back a few layers in the podcast or our monthly current affair reports, you can count on us to keep you up to date. Sign up today for just $99.95 for more exclusive offers here. Subscribe now at australianaviation.com.au.