Qatar has apologised to several women who faced mandatory examinations after a newborn baby was found abandoned at Doha’s busy Hamad International Airport.
The incident on October 2 saw staff take women off planes to examine them, ostensibly to check whether they were the mother of the abandoned baby.
Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani, Qatar’s prime minister, has ordered a “comprehensive, transparent investigation”, the Government Communications Office said in a statement on Wednesday.
“While the aim of the urgently decided search was to prevent the perpetrators of the horrible crime from escaping, the State of Qatar regrets any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveler caused by this action,” the statement said.
“This egregious and life-threatening violation of the law triggered an immediate search for the parents, including on flights in the vicinity of where the newborn was found.”
The newborn, a baby girl, was found in a plastic bag in a rubbish bin in “what appeared to be a shocking and appalling attempt to kill her”, the statement said.
Meanwhile, Australia’s foreign minister said female passengers on 10 planes flying out Doha were forced to endure the invasive physical examinations, greatly expanding the number of women first thought affected.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne told a hearing in Australia’s Senate on Wednesday that women on “10 aircraft in total” had been subject to the searches, which she has described as “grossly disturbing” and “offensive”.
“We became aware of that yesterday through advice from our post in Doha,” she said.
Australia had registered its “serious concern” about the treatment of the women, she added.
It was revealed on Sunday that women were removed from a Sydney-bound Qatar Airways flight in Doha on October 2 and forced to undergo the inspections after the baby was found in an airport toilet.
The women said they were taken from the plane and subjected to strip searches in an ambulance parked on the tarmac.
A spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Al Jazeera that “18 female passengers … were involved in the incident” on the October 2 flight to Sydney, adding that 13 of them were Australian and five were of other nationalities.
The Transport Workers’ Union of New South Wales, whose members service Qatar Airways planes at Sydney Airport, said on Tuesday it was considering industrial action against the carrier for “the brutal attack on the human rights of Australian female airline passengers”.
“Other countries affected absolutely share Australia’s views and the strength of Australia’s views,” said Frances Adamson, secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. “This is not by any standard normal behaviour and the Qataris recognise that and are appalled by it, do not want it to happen again.”
Australia was alerted to the incident by a female Australian diplomat who was on the flight and was “shocked at what happened”, Adamson said. The diplomat was not searched.
Doha’s Hamad International Airport launched an appeal on Sunday for the child’s mother to come forward, saying the baby remains unidentified but is “safe under the professional care of medical and social workers”.