UK, New Zealand say citizens also tested invasively in Qatar

Women on 10 flights out of Doha were subject to the physical examinations as authorities searched for the mother of a newborn baby abandoned at the airport.

The incident at Hamad airport could also upend Qatar's efforts to boost its reputation before the Gulf state hosts the football World Cup in 2022 [File: Karim Jaafar/AFP]

Passengers who were citizens of the United Kingdom and New Zealand were also among the women subjected to invasive pelvic examinations at Qatar’s main airport, according to representatives of the two countries, who condemned the action as “completely unacceptable”.

A spokesman from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said on Thursday that two British citizens were subject to the physical test, while New Zealand’s foreign ministry said one Kiwi also had similar experience in the Qatari capital, Doha.

“We are providing ongoing support to two British women following an incident in Doha,” a UK official said.

“We have formally expressed our concern with the Qatari authorities and Qatar Airways and are seeking assurances an unacceptable incident like this cannot happen again,” the official added.

A spokesman from New Zealand’s government added late on Thursday: “We were extremely concerned to learn … that a New Zealand national was involved in the appalling incident involving female passengers on several Qatar Airways flights.”

“This action was completely unacceptable. We are making our views known to Qatari authorities and are seeking a full report on what occurred.”

No other details were revealed about the British and New Zealand women involved.

Reputational damage

The AFP news agency also reported that one French woman on a flight to Australia was affected.

The French government has yet to confirm the report.

Women on 10 flights out of Doha were subject to the examinations as authorities in the Gulf state searched for the mother of a newborn baby found abandoned in an airport toilet.

Qatar said on Wednesday it “regrets any distress” over the incident, which occurred in early October, but only came to light this week after women in Australia spoke out.

They said that they had been forcibly removed from a Sydney-bound Qatar Airways flight and forced to undergo vaginal inspections.

On Wednesday Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne told parliament that women on “10 aircraft in total” had been subject to the searches, describing them as “grossly disturbing” and “offensive.”

Payne said 18 women, including 13 Australians, on the October 2 flight to Sydney were affected, along with “other foreign nationals.”

Officials said Australia was also working “very closely” with other countries to jointly raise concerns with Doha but refused to name those countries, citing privacy concerns of women on the Sydney-bound flight.

Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al-Thani has ordered an investigation of the incident and the results will be shared with international partners, according to the government. It also promised to ensure the future “safety, security and comfort” of passengers.

“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 traveller caused by this action,” it said.

The statement said the newborn baby had been found abandoned in a rubbish bin and was wrapped in a plastic bag.

Doha’s Hamad International airport had launched an appeal 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”.

Qatar Airways is one of the few airlines that has maintained flights to Australia since the country closed its international border early in the pandemic and restricted the return of its own citizens.

Experts believe the airline could suffer damage to its business, regardless of whether or not it was involved in the incident.

Source: AFP, Al Jazeera