The seven Australian women suing the Qatari government for forcing them to undertake invasive searches at its airport are now also complaining to an international authority on business standards.
Marque Lawyers’ partner Damian Sturzaker said his clients hoped the move would ensure authorities couldn’t subject future passengers to a similar ordeal.
In October 2020, 13 Australian women on board a Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Sydney were asked to leave their aircraft before being escorted to ambulances for genital checks, supposedly carried out as staff tried to find the mother of a baby abandoned at the airport.
Seven are now pursuing legal action against Qatar because they say they were left traumatised and received no personal apology or compensation.
They will now also be lodging a formal complaint with the Australian National Contact Point for the OECD, which aims to provide “conciliation services” to resolve complaints against multinational businesses.
“Even before they engaged our firm, this group of women wrote to the Qatari parties and received no response,” Sturzaker said.
“There was no apology, no reach out, nothing. Just a tweet from the (Qatar) Prime Minister who said ‘This is terrible’ and ‘We’ll investigate it thoroughly and publish the results of our investigation.’”
Sturzaker told The Australian he was “staggered” by the lack of response, and added one of the women had the further worry of having to leave her six and eight-year-old sons alone on the aircraft.
Aside from the Australian passengers, a further five women from other countries, including the UK and France, were also asked to leave the plane bound for Sydney.
It was later confirmed that women from as many as 10 other flights were also subjected to the ordeal.
Early reports of the incident suggest the women involved were ”distraught” and “couldn’t believe what had happened”, as they were pulled from their long-delayed flights and subject to intimate examinations, with no explanation.
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said at the time that the incident was “a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events”.
Authorities also 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.
One of the 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.”
Sturzaker said in November his clients “continue to suffer distress and ill effects and trauma as a result of what occurred”.
The women are seeking to receive a formal apology for the incident, compensation and protection for future passengers travelling through the airport. It is not yet known the amount of compensation being sought.