Aussies share new details on horrific airport trauma: ‘I was crying, shaking’

·5-min read

"I thought we were going to be kidnapped or held as legal pawns. I feared we were going to be raped and that my child is going to be taken and that we will never see family again."

These are the harrowing words from Anna, who was not using her real name, one of the thirteen Australian women forced to undergo a traumatising strip search in Qatar on her Sydney-bound flight in October 2020.

"It was the scariest moment of my life," she told 60 Minutes on Sunday.

"I was crying and shaking and squeezing my baby. I didn't want to get on an elevator with armed guards not knowing where we were going and where we were being taken."

Anna, not her real name, shared her experiences on 60 Minutes. Source: 60 Minutes
Anna recounted the horrific experience at Qatar airport. Source: 60 Minutes

The unsuspecting women were waiting to board a flight to Sydney on October 2, 2020 at Hamad International Airport in Doha when flights were grounded after a newborn baby was found in a bathroom bin.

Authorities boarded the planes, forcing women of childbearing age off of the flights and into ambulances on the tarmac to undergo invasive genealogical exams.

However, despite the traumatic experience, the women said they are yet to receive a formal apology.

None of the victims gave their consent and are now demanding that something be done, taking the Qatari government to court over the human rights violation.

Aussie women describe 'scariest moment of life'

A year after the incident, the women involved have described the horror and ongoing trauma of the invasive non-consensual medical exams.

Anna recounted her "humiliating" experience, saying once she got to the ambulance and onto a bed where a nurse briefly explained what was going on before stripping her of her underwear, which she calls an "abuse of power and a breach of my human rights."

"No one is allowed to touch me, no one is allowed to strip me naked without my consent and that is what happened to me in a major airport, one of the biggest airports in the world with a major airline," she told the program.

Fellow passenger Sophie, who was also using a pseudonym, was travelling alone at the time and said she's been traumatised by the experience.

"I felt very angry and full of rage leaving the ambulance that I didn't have a stronger voice that I allowed that to take place, that I didn't protest enough. I felt powerless."

The women are now suing Qatar Airways and the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority accusing them of assault, battery and deprivation of the women's liberty.

Sophie, not her real name, shared her story with 60 Minutes. Source: 60 Minutes
Sophie said she felt powerless over what happened. Source: 60 Minutes

Qatar PM tweeted apology 

Qatar’s Prime Minister, Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani, tweeted an apology in October 2020 following the incident saying: “We regret the unacceptable treatment of the female passengers at HIA ... What took place does not reflect Qatar’s laws or values.”

However, the women said they have not received any word from Qatari authorities over the matter.

In a letter obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald, they were told their claims against the airline had "no merit."

“Your request that Qatar Airways engages in dialogue and/or mediation regarding the matters raised in the letter is respectfully declined on the basis that a claim against Qatar Airways has no merit," the letter read.

The Qatari police captain who allegedly called for the exams to take place reportedly received a six-month suspended sentence and a $3500 fine.

CCTV footage shows three men with masks, one man holding a newborn baby. Source: Doha News via AP
Surveillance camera footage obtained by the website Doha News shows officials with an abandoned baby at Hamad International Airport in Doha in October 2020. Source: Doha News via AP

According to the women, they have also been largely ignored by the Australian government.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was questioned at a media conference on Friday, saying he was “very pleased” with the representations his government had made on the matter.

“That was an awful experience for these women ... There was an investigation, there has been a conviction, and there’s been a significant change to airport processes in Qatar,” he said.

Women yet to receive compensation over incident 

According to a GoFundMe page set up for the women to cover legal costs, none of the women have received any direct contact nor an apology from the Qatar government or Qatar Airways nor any compensation in relation to the traumatic incident.

Despite Australian authorities saying the details were contained in a high-level “confidential report” from the Qatari government, the women say they haven't heard from the Australian government with any details.

The women are yet to receive an apology from the airline. Source: AAP
The women are yet to receive an apology from the airline. Source: AAP

Damian Sturzaker from Marque Lawyers, who is is acting for seven of the women, said they were “being ignored”.

“Sometimes you need to deploy a legal remedy in circumstances where either moral, or in fact even political or diplomatic pressure was getting nowhere,” Mr Sturzaker said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

"We want a reasonable outcome and for positive steps to be taken guarantee the safety of women and more generally people in general travelling through Doha."

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