Qatar has still yet to provide the Australian government with its crucial report into the invasive search of 18 women at Hamad Airport, four months after the incident.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on Wednesday it was “disappointed” at the news but “continues to engage regularly” with Qatar to seek updates on the matter.
Previously, authorities faced criticism for taking almost a month to publicly apologise for the incident and seemingly attempting to shift the narrative to the premature baby. Guardian Australia also reported that it had spoken to a number of women who were searched and none had received an apology or offer of compensation from Qatar.
In total, 13 Australian women on board Qatar Airways flight QR908 from Doha to Sydney were asked to leave the plane on 2 October to be escorted to ambulances for the invasive check, supposedly carried out as staff tried to find the mother of a baby abandoned at the airport.
It was then later confirmed women from as many as 10 different aircraft were checked, and five women from other nationalities, including the UK and France, were also asked to leave the plane.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said shortly after the revelation of the incident, “We very much welcome the acknowledgement by the government of Qatar in relation to the events that occurred in Hamad Airport recently. We welcome the investigative process they have undertaken.”
After initially keeping quiet about the incident, Qatari authorities eventually hardened their stance and said a preliminary investigation concluded “standard procedures were violated”.
A statement read, “His Excellency the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior expressed the Government of the State of Qatar’s sincerest apology for what some female travellers went through as a result of the measures.
“This incident is the first of its kind at HIA, which has served tens of millions of passengers without any issues like this before. What took place is wholly inconsistent with Qatar’s culture and values. Qatar is fully committed to the safety and security of all travellers arriving to or transiting through HIA.”
Qatar’s prime minister then tweeted that the actions “do not represent Qatar’s laws or values”.
In November, Qatar’s prosecutor said it would file criminal charges against police officers working at Hamad Airport for apparently instructing medical staff to force the genital examinations on the passengers.
Authorities said the defendants face “penalties of a maximum of three years”.
Qatar also claims to have charged the mother of the abandoned baby, who sparked the search, with attempted murder and launched legal proceedings to arrest her.
The state of Qatar effectively owns both Hamad Airport and the flag carrier, Qatar Airways. Before the initial statement, Minister Payne reiterated that she thought the treatment was “offensive” and “grossly inappropriate” to a parliamentary hearing.
One of the Australian women searched spoke anonymously to the ABC and said authorities locked the ambulance door before telling her to undress.
“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.
“Everyone had gone white and was shaking. I was very scared at that point, I didn’t know what the possibilities were.”
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’.