'Pap smears' for women on plane trigger outcry

Top News | AP, AFP 27 Oct 2020

Australia has condemned Qatar authorities' treatment of female passengers on a flight to Sydney who were subjected to internal examinations after a newborn baby was found abandoned at a Doha airport.

The women, including 13 Australians, were examined at Hamad International Airport on October 2 after Qatar Airways Flight 908 to Sydney was delayed.

Australia's foreign affairs department described the treatment of the women as inappropriate and beyond circumstances in which they could give free and informed consent.

"This is a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive concerning set of events,'' Foreign Minister Marise Payne said. "It's not something that I've ever heard of occurring in my life, in any context. We have made our views very clear to the Qatari authorities on this matter.''

Australia would await a report from the Qatari government before making the next steps, Payne said.

She said the matter was reported to Australian Federal Police, but did not explain what action police might take. Police said they are working with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the matter.

The baby was still unidentified and was being cared for by medical and social workers, airport officials said.

Medical professionals were concerned for the mother's health and had requested she be located, it said.

"Individuals who had access to a specific area of the airport where the newborn infant was found were asked to assist in the query,'' it added.

The women were examined in an ambulance parked on the tarmac, it was reported. "Officials were forcing women to undergo invasive body searches - basically forced Pap smears," a source in Doha briefed on the incident said, referring to an internal examination of the cervix.

Wolfgang Babeck, who was returning home to Australia on the flight, said women were taken from the plane regardless of their age.

"When the women came back, many of them or probably all of them were upset. One of them was in tears, a younger woman, and people couldn't believe what had happened,'' Babeck said. "They told me they had to take their underwear off or their clothes from the bottom and then it was inspected whether they had given birth."

Babeck said no explanation was provided for why the departure was delayed for more than three hours or why women were required to leave the plane. He said the examinations were conducted by a woman.

The passengers are now in 14-day hotel quarantines in Sydney as part of coronavirus measures.

Search Archive

Advanced Search
May 2021

Today's Standard