Australia says women on 10 flights underwent invasive searches at Qatar airport

The women were subjected to an invasive search following the discovery of an abandoned newborn baby at the airport. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY/DUBAI (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) -Women on 10 flights underwent invasive searches at Qatar's Hamad Airport, and other countries share Australia's strong concerns about the incident that occurred this month, Australian officials said.

Qatar's prime minister has ordered an investigation into the incident on Oct 2, where women were subjected to an invasive search following the discovery of an abandoned newborn baby at the airport, Qatar government's communications office told Reuters in a statement.

The baby girl was found in a trash can, concealed in a plastic bag and buried under garbage in what "appeared to be a shocking and appalling attempt to kill her," the Qatari government said.

It said it was an "egregious and life-threatening violation of the law."

"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," the statement said.

The baby is safe and receiving medical care in Doha, it added.

Australia's foreign affairs minister Marise Payne said Australia had registered its "serious concern" at the treatment of 18 Australian women on a Qatar Airways flight with the Qatari government.

The women were forced to disembark the plane and undergo the invasive searches in an ambulance.

Australian officials told a government committee hearing in Canberra on Wednesday (Oct 28) that women on 10 flights had been searched and Australia was working closely with other countries on the issue, without naming the countries.

"There is a very strong like-minded view about this. 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, are appalled by it, do not want it to happen again." Australia was notified of the incident by a female Australian diplomat who was on the flight and was "shocked at what happened", Adamson added.

The Australian diplomat was not searched.

In Qatar, it is illegal for women to have sex or become pregnant outside of marriage.

"The Qatari investigation is to determine which laws might have been violated, any individuals responsible, and recommend disciplinary and prosecutorial action where appropriate," a source with knowledge of the investigation told Reuters.

The results of the investigation will be shared with international partners, the Qatari statement said.

Qatar Airways could face an effective grounding of its places in Sydney as workers consider striking over the incident which saw women, including 13 Australians, subjected to invasive, naked inspections without their consent, reported Bloomberg.

The union representing Sydney airport workers is considering refusing to service, clean or refuel Qatar Airways jets. Members "are angry at the brutal attack on the human rights" of the women, the Transport Workers' Union in the Australian state of New South Wales said in a statement Tuesday.

"Qatar should fix this problem they have created or they will face the angry uproar from union members in NSW," Richard Olsen, NSW State Secretary of the Transport Workers' Union, said in the statement.

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