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Woman ‘locked in’ ambulance for Doha Airport genital exam

written by Adam Thorn | October 26, 2020
The first Airbus A350-900 commercial service to Australia prepares to touch down at Adelaide Airport. (Seth Jaworski)
The first Airbus A350-900 commercial service to Australia prepares to touch down at Adelaide Airport. (Seth Jaworski)

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.

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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.

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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.”

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18 Comments

  • Kurt

    says:

    Unbelievable! It’s hard to imagine Qatar being able to guarantee the safety of women transiting there airport from now on. Now we all wait and see as more of the story unfolds.

  • Pete

    says:

    Welcome to Qatar, where it’s still the sixth century and you have no rights, particularly if you’re a woman.

    Don’t give these people your money, because this is the kind of horror your money is supporting.

  • Andrew

    says:

    Idiot Albo, typical rhetoric of a failing opposition pollie by twisting words “The government has a relationship with Qatar…”. We need a class action not an opportunistic politician making mileage out of this horrific incident.

  • Shane

    says:

    His is another reason I will not ever travel through the Middle East.

  • Gary

    says:

    Simple, boycott Qatar Airlines and Doha Airport

  • Marum

    says:

    Why would anyone go to their lousy rotten countries?

    One only has to look ay how they treat their own citizens, except for a wealthy elite, to realize that one has no rights or freedoms within their borders. Their oppression of females should be enough to turn any thinking woman away. If it were not for an accident of geography that they have oil, we would not give them the time of day, let alone crawling to them.

    Just refuse to set foot on their shores, even for a stopover. There are many friendlier places to stop at, for a splash and go. The airlines will get the message.

    Use your brain, and your feet….Marum.(Isang pusa)

  • Beryl Johns

    says:

    This is abhorrent treatment on any woman, Australian or not.
    I hope the Australian Government does what is appropriate to show Qatar THIS IS NOT ON!

  • Johnson

    says:

    A newborn has been found abandoned in the lavatory and I’m guessing “Who left a baby in the toilet?” has gone unanswered, for whatever reason, by the mother when broadcast over the PA. What’s occurred is uncomfortable and it is an invasion of privacy, but there only exists a small window of opportunity to identify the mother before passengers disperse onto transit flights or cross the border. Is there a better way of doing this than physical examination?
    By no means do I think it’s the right thing to do, but what’s the alternative? It is surely in everyone’s interests to ensure this baby is reunited with its mother.

  • John G

    says:

    My daughter was a midwife at a large private hospital in Doha. She told me that for an unmarried mother to have a baby is a criminal offence resulting in a jail term regardless of the circumstances especially rape. She said the most likely scenario is that an unskilled expatriate airport worker panicked having the baby and then fled for fear of getting caught and either jailed or instantly deported. The searches should never have happened. As a midwife she said it was relatively easy for a skilled medical person to determine if the woman had a recent delivery without doing a genital inspection. Most local nurses are not highly trained. That is why my daughter, a highly trained Australian, was offered the job to supervise the local nurses, many from S.E. Asia.

  • Angela

    says:

    I had a similar incident at Dubai a few years ago.I was locked in a room being checked over by an aggressive fully veiled person. Couldn’t tell whether it was male or female. All bcos my bangle beeped. I told them I couldn’t get it off. This is really shocking. It still scares me when I hear this kind of thing happening on such a large scale.

  • Mr Peter Stewart Phillips

    says:

    Simple.. Don’t ever fly with them. Have considered them to go to Europe in the past, but not anymore.
    We have travelled through the i east many times, and have never really felt welcome. Go via Singapore now, and will again when able.

  • Andy Hegh

    says:

    What else was the Airline supposed to do? They had a recently born baby abandoned in the bathroom, and an aircraft about to depart for Sydney with the possibility of the mother being on board. No one was claiming the baby, so they did what they had to do to try to find the mother before the aircraft departed.The airport personell were all female doctors and nurses, and except for the language problem, it was a quick solution to a very difficult problem. Perhaps it was a little ham fisted, however the alternative would have been to delay the aircraft departure for perhaps days while bruised egos were attended to, and in the meantime the abandoned baby would have been left to a bleak future.
    To talk of a class action is juvenile and rediculous.

  • Sean Keogh

    says:

    Was it done respectfully and with dignity, perhaps?
    Did this need to be done, maybe?
    The affected women should have at least been told, the reason why these inspections were necessary!
    Pretty disappointed with the way this was handled.

  • George

    says:

    How about using CCTV footages to check and narrow down the search?

  • Steven Hall

    says:

    ANDY HEGH you are as stupid as the Qataris, and just as insensitive. What was the airline supposed to do? This was not the airline but the local authorities who were violating international law by applying local law airside. How about pregnancy test kits, I am sure the pharmacy in the terminal had many, what about blood tests? The authorities were looking for someone to imprison for a crime and every woman had to prove thir innocence by a genital inspection. OMG how barbaric and wrong, this wasnt a little ham fisted this was sexual assault. Sooo a class action is needed but is insufficient, the Australina government needs to ban Qatar airways from Australia destinations as a result of the human rights abuses on Australians durning a airposrt transit. Wake up

  • Peter Brown

    says:

    Every Western civilized should kick QR out. BARBARIC!!

  • rm

    says:

    They could have just asked for a urine sample and done an instant pregnancy test. Would have still been positive.

  • kevin

    says:

    Barbaric forced female rape,
    shame, absolute shame
    No amount of money, caviar, golden plated things will ever excuse this forced degrading rape.

    Never flown through that part of the world, and glad that others may seriously reconsider their transit options

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