An Australian woman, forced off a plane for an invasive internal exam after a premature baby was found at Doha Airport, has said she was left traumatised from the experience.
The woman, who went by the pseudonym Jane to speak to 60 Minutes, said she was “terrified and humiliated” after authorities at the Qatari airport told her to get off the plane and subjected her to a vaginal exam, to see if she had recently given birth.
Jane, a young nurse who works in Melbourne, was one of 18 women stripsearched and examined on October 2 as authorities tried to find the mother of the newborn.
Almost two months later, Jane said she is still suffering from the aftermath of the horrifying experience.
“We felt like criminals really … we were frightened,” she told the current affairs program.
“I had to pull (my underwear) down and it was just incredibly invasive. I was terrified and I was humiliated and worried about the men.”
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Jane* speaking after the Qatar Airways incident. Picture: 60 MinutesSource:Channel 9
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Jane was on the Qatar Airways plane with her husband when the group of women – 13 who were Australian – were told to get their passports and get off the flight.
“It was just awful. It was really awful,” Jane said, admitting she had no idea if she would see her husband again.
Everyone had already boarded the Sydney-bound flight when two ambulances drove onto the tarmac.
Speaking on the plane’s intercom, a man told all women would need to exit the plane, with their passports.
Armed police then boarded the flight to escort the women off, checking the plane’s bathrooms to ensure no-one was hiding.
“I didn’t really want to get off (the plane) but there was no choice in the matter,” she told 60 Minutes . “It was really scary. I just thought, ‘What will happen if I say no?’”
The Qatar Airways flight was making its way to Sydney. Picture: Odd Andersen/AFPSource:AFP
Jane questioned what was happening as she left the plane but the two men escorting her off the flight did not speak English.
She was led to one of the ambulances, where 10 to 12 armed men were waiting outside.
Inside the ambulance, a female doctor told Jane a baby had been abandoned inside Doha Airport and “we need to test you”.
“She goes, ‘We need to remove your underwear.’ And I said, ‘I don’t feel comfortable with removing my underwear.’ And I was physically holding them up. And she’s like, ‘No, they need to come down,” Jane said.
‘They had thin blinds. I could see out and I remember thinking, ‘Can all of those men out there see in?’
“I remember laying there thinking, ‘This isn’t right. This is not how this should be happening. This isn’t how this should be done.’”
After two to three minutes inside the ambulance, Jane was taken back to the plane “shaking”.
“I was shaking at that point. I just explained what had happened and we just sat there and we were just in shock. I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe that’s actually just happened to me,’” she said.
Jane* was subject to the invasive exam. Picture: 60 MinutesSource:Channel 9
The Sydney-bound flight eventually took off, with authorities still searching for the child’s mother.
Jane and her husband had decided to return home after living in London for the past three years.
Before the ordeal, Jane said she thought she was “one of the lucky ones” by managing to get a ticket back to Australia.
Since arriving home, Jane has sought professional help since the ordeal and now suffered panic attacks.
She said the support offered to her from Australian authorities had been exemplary.
They also fear for the mum who left her baby in the airport. It’s illegal in Qatar for women to have sex or get pregnant before marriage.
“We’re scared for that mum,” she said.
“We can’t begin to imagine what she was feeling to think that she was in that situation, that that’s what she had to do with that young baby.
“I’m sure she felt she had no choice either. It’s sort of a recurring theme here.”
Doha News obtained exclusive footage that showed the moments immediately after a newborn baby girl was found at the airport. Picture: Doha News ExclusiveSource:Supplied
Airport officials with the baby. Picture: Doha News ExclusiveSource:Supplied
Officials who ordered the intrusive examinations were referred for prosecution in late October.
Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani also apologised for the incident.
“This incident is the first of its kind at Hamad International Airport (HIA), which has served tens of millions of passengers without any issues like this before,” he said.
“What took place is wholly inconsistent with Qatar’s culture and values. Qatar is fully committed to the safety and security of all travellers arriving to or transiting through HIA.”
The incident, which was reported to the Australian Federal Police, was described by Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne as “grossly disturbing and offensive”.
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