Great Britain

Australia demands answers after women taken from Qatar Airways flight and strip-searched

The Australian government has registered “serious concerns” with Qatari authorities after women on a flight from Doha to Sydney were ordered to disembark the plane and subjected to a strip search and a medical examination.

Flight QR908 to Sydney was due to leave Hamad International airport at Doha at 8.30 on Friday 2 October, but was delayed for four hours, apparently after a newborn infant was found dead in the airport.

Among the 34 passengers on board was Dr Wolfgang Babeck, who was returning to Australia after spending a month in Germany with his ailing father.

Babeck told Guardian Australia that, after about three hours of waiting on board the plane, the airline requested that all the women on board disembark. They returned some time later, and “most of them were very upset”, he said.

“At least one of them was crying, they were discussing what had happened and saying that it was unacceptable and disgusting.”

The plane was then allowed to take off. Babeck said he then spoke to some of the female passengers, who said they had been taken off the plane and led into a non-public area of the airport and subject to a medical examination.

“They were taken by security personnel into the cellar, not knowing what was going on,” he said. “And then they were presented to a female doctor and they were basically strip searched and had to take everything downwards off, all their clothes, even their underwear.

“And then the doctor would try to feel in the uterus and stomach area or lower abdomen to see whether they may have given birth recently.

“Someone had been told that a baby had been found in the toilet and they were trying to find out who the mother was.”

Channel Seven, which first reported the story on Sunday, said the inspections involved 13 Australian women, and took place in an ambulance on the runway.

A spokesperson for the Australian department of foreign affairs and trade told Guardian Australia earlier the department was “aware of concerning reports regarding the treatment, in Qatar, of passengers on a Qatar Airways flight to Sydney”.

“DFAT is seeking further information from the Qatari authorities and Qatar Airways.”

On Sunday night an updated statement from the department said the Australian government had “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”.

Qatar Airways told Guardian Australia it had not been contacted by any of the passengers on the flight and said it could not comment.

“We appreciate the concerns and distress expressed to you by the Australian passengers who you have spoken to, and will be investigating these matters with the relevant authorities and officials,” a spokesperson said.

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