When a premature baby was found in a toilet cubicle at Doha Airport early in October, the response from airport officials was startling.
Female passengers were detained, shepherded individually into an awaiting ambulance, asked to strip naked and then assessed for whether they had given birth to the abandoned baby.
Thirteen Australian women were among the cohort, but were not made aware of why they were being asked to undergo the invasive examination.
The Australian Government has registered “serious concerns” with Qatari officials and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne described the treatment as “grossly inappropriate”.
“The Australian Government is deeply concerned at the unacceptable treatment of some female passengers on a recent Qatar Airways flight at Doha Airport,” she said.
“The advice that has been provided indicates that the treatment of the women concerned was offensive, grossly inappropriate, and beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent.”
Shadow Resources Minister Joel Fitzgibbons told Sunrise on Monday that Australia should “await confirmation about the accuracy of the report”.
“If true, this effectively amounts to state-sanctioned sexual assault and we should all be very, very concerned,” he said.
“And the government here in Australia should be most robust in its responses.”
Returning home after the incident, the women were forced to quarantine without receiving professional support, confirmed by NSW Police.
“Those women completed mandatory quarantine in NSW, during which time they were provided with medical and psychological support by NSW Health,” it said in a statement, adding that “NSW Police referred it to the relevant Commonwealth authority.”
Women from several other countries are understood to have been subjected to the same treatment, but the extent of the incident is not yet known.
A statement from Hamad Airport confirmed the baby was well and safe but that the mother had not been located.
“At this time, the newborn infant remains unidentified, but is safe under the professional care of medical and social workers,” the statement read.
“Medical professionals expressed concern to officials about the health and welfare of a mother who had just given birth and requested she be located prior to departing [the airport].”