Australia welcomes Qatar apology over internal exams of women

Foreign ministers of Qatar and Australia speak for the first time after October 2 incident at Doha airport.

HIA 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' [Karim Jaafar/AFP]

Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne has welcomed Qatar’s “sincere apology” over the forced internal examinations of female passengers at the Doha airport.

Payne told reporters on Saturday that she had spoken to Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani on Friday, who “provided a strong assurance that Qatar fully recognises the seriousness of these events and will ensure that they are never repeated”.

During the October 2 incident, women on 10 flights leaving Doha, including at least 13 Australians, were taken off their planes and subjected to a gynecological examination to check if they were the mother of a baby found abandoned at the Hamad International Airport (HIA).

The newborn, a girl, was found in a plastic bag in a bin at a toilet in one of the airport’s terminals.

The strip searches of the women sparked outrage in Australia, and Qatari authorities pledged to prosecute those “responsible for these violations and illegal actions”.

“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,” the Australian foreign minister said.

During Payne’s phone call with Sheikh Mohammed, Qatar renewed its apology and emphasised the country’s “commitment to the safety and security of all passengers” travelling through HIA, according to a joint statement released on Saturday.

“The two Foreign Ministers agreed to continue to monitor the case closely and exchange updates, assuring that this is a top priority for both governments,” the statement added.

Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani also expressed on Friday Qatar’s “sincerest apology for what some female travellers went through as a result of the measures”.

HIA launched an appeal on October 25 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”.

Earlier this week, 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.

Payne, at a hearing in Australia’s Senate on Wednesday, described the acts of the airport’s staff as “grossly disturbing” and “offensive”.

The women said they were taken from the respective planes and subjected to strip search in an ambulance parked on the tarmac.

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”.

Source: Al Jazeera