Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has revealed women on 10 different aircraft at a Doha airport were subjected to invasive internal examinations by Qatari authorities this month.
The examinations occurred after a newborn premature baby was found in a terminal bathroom at Hamad International Airport on 2 October.
The episode has sparked outrage in Australia and infuriated officials and politicians in Canberra. A senior Australian official said Qatari officials are working with Australia and “two or three” other unidentified countries.
Payne confirmed 18 Australian women were on the flights – an updated figure on the 13 female passengers revealed on Monday who had been affected on a Qatar Airways flight to Sydney – but officials said it was not clear how many in total were searched.
She also told a parliamentary hearing that women from several different countries were searched.
The foreign minister reiterated that the Australian government had formally registered its “serious concern” with Qatar, arguing the treatment of Australian women was “offensive” and “grossly inappropriate”.
Australia has also demanded Qatar submit a report to Australia about the incident.
Payne said the report would be handed to Australia “very soon”.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Frances Adamson said she was “incredulous” that the search could have occurred, and that the department had made “intensive” representations to Qatar.
“There is a very strong determination [in Qatar’s government] to report as soon as possible,” she said.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne Photo: AFP / Charly Triballeau
She also said the Qatari government’s reaction “matches our own in terms of level of distress and abhorrence and a deep questioning of how this can have happened”.
Senator Penny Wong also grilled Payne about why she had not yet spoken to Qatar’s Foreign Minister about the episode.
“Don’t you think Australians and the women concerned would expect that of our Foreign Minister?” she asked.
Payne said she would do so as soon as she was equipped with the report.
“[The women concerned] would expect us to get the best possible information possible from the Qatari system and to make it very clear to Qatar our concerns in relation to this matter,” she told the hearing.
“I have indicated that my priority is to get the report so I can deal with that directly so we can engage in acquiring that report as soon as it’s available.
“It’s very clear this is not acceptable.”
Adamson also confirmed an Australian diplomat was on the flight but said she was not searched because she was “not of child-bearing age”.
Hamad International Airport released a statement this week that did not provide details of the examinations or women affected.
The airport said it had acted on the advice of medical professionals to try to find the mother of the newborn before she departed.
“Individuals who had access to the specific area of the airport where the newborn infant was found were asked to assist in the query,” the airport said in a statement.
– ABC / BBC
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