At least 18 Australian women from a Qatar Airways flight were subjected to medical examinations at Doha airport and a total of 10 flights were affected, the foreign affairs minister has said.
The women were subject to an intimate medical examination at Doha international airport on 2 October, in what the airport said was an effort to find the mother of a newborn baby found in a bathroom.
Marise Payne told a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday that 10 flights leaving Hamad international airport in Doha had been caught up in the search.
Eighteen women were on the Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Sydney which has been highlighted in media reports this week. Payne said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had not become aware of the number of other flights affected until Tuesday.
“The issues which have been discussed in relation to this matter are very concerning and very distressing and the Australian government has been quite clear about that,” Payne said. “There is a series of meetings occurring in Qatar as late as yesterday. Australia is not the only country affected.”
Those meetings involved the airport, Qatar Airways and the government of Qatar, Payne said.
The incident was reported to Australian authorities by women on the flight upon their arrival in Sydney on 3 October. Some passengers made a report to the Australian federal police at the airport, and one woman on the flight emailed the foreign affairs department that night.
The first assistant secretary of the department, Dr Angela McDonald, then spoke to the Qatar ambassador on 6 October and was told a report on the women’s treatment would be produced.
That report has not yet been produced. Payne said she had not spoken directly to anyone in the government of Qatar before calling in the ambassador this week. She said she had arranged to speak to the foreign minister of Qatar after the report was released.
She said she had not yet discussed the matter directly with the prime minister, but that his office had been advised on 5 October – the same day her office was advised.
McDonald said no one from the department had been in direct contact with the women.