Up to 18 Australian women may have been subjected to invasive searches in Qatar after being pulled off 10 flights at Doha’s airport earlier this month.
The baby was found alive at the Hamad International Airport before flights, including one to Sydney, were held up while officials tried to find the mother.
Passengers say women on board were forced to remove their underwear and have an invasive medical examination in an ambulance on the tarmac.
The mother was not found and the women were allowed to depart before serving hotel quarantine in Sydney.
Previous reports said 13 Aussie women were searched but Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials said on Wednesday 18 Australians could have been involved.
The Australian government has formally registered serious concerns with Qatari authorities. Pictured: Police at Doha Airport in March
Foreign Minister Marise Payne told Senate estimates the incident had triggered high-level diplomatic meetings.
‘The issues which have been discussed in relation to this matter are very concerning and very distressing,’ she told the committee in Canberra.
Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong questioned why the minister had not yet spoken directly with her Qatari counterpart.
‘Surely we know enough to raise our deep concern and express at the most senior levels of government the importance of the report being finalised promptly,’ she said.
But Senator Payne said she was waiting for Qatar’s report into the incident before speaking with the country’s foreign minister.
‘I asked to see the report to get a very clear understanding of events as they had occurred and from the Qatari perspective,’ she said.
Senator Payne said discussions with the Qatari ambassador left her hopeful the report would be available in coming days.
DFAT secretary Frances Adamson confirmed a staff member was on one of the planes but not searched because she was not of child-bearing age.
Ms Adamson recalled her shock when learning about the searches.
‘It sounded incredible. As in how can this have happened?’ she told the hearing.
‘I was incredulous that it could have happened.’
Meanwhile, the Transport Workers’ Union NSW branch will meet on Thursday to vote on a potential boycott of the government-owned Qatar Airways.
‘This is just downright sexual assault sanctioned by a government and we can’t have that,’ union boss Richard Olsen told the Nine Network on Wednesday.
Women were allegedly searched without their consent after the newborn baby was found
Wolfgang Babeck, who was on the flight to Sydney, said that many of the women were distressed when they returned to the plane.
‘When the women came back, many of them or probably all of them were upset – one of them was in tears, a younger woman,’ he told the ABC.
‘People couldn’t believe what had happened.’
A source in Doha briefed on the incident said: ‘(Officials) were forcing women to undergo invasive body searches – basically forced Pap smears.’
Senator Payne has expressed ‘serious concerns’ to Qatari officials and is awaiting a report to find out exactly what happened.
She said the events were ‘grossly disturbing, offensive and deeply concerning’.
Hamad International Airport management said the baby was safe and being cared for by medical and social workers.
Hamad International Airport management said the baby was safe and being cared for by medical and social workers (file image)
Source: Daily Mail Australia | World News