Speaking at the Australian Senate hearing on Wednesday morning, Australian Foreign Minister Maryse Payne said 13 Australian citizens were among those removed from flights and forced to undergo “flagrantly inappropriate” checks while crossing Qatar on 2 October.
It was not clear how many women were searched. A spokesperson for the Australian Foreign Ministry told CNN that 13 Australians were among 18 women searched in one flight. Women from nine other flights were subjected to unfair internal checks, according to the spokesman.
CNN’s Nine News reported that among the participating aircraft was Qatar Airways Flight 908 bound for Sydney, which landed at a transit station in Doha, Qatar, that day.
Payne said Australia was not the only country whose citizens were affected, but he did not specify which other countries were involved.
Australian Labor Senator Benny Wong, speaking at the same session, described the search process as “an unfair measure”.
Although the exact details of the accident were not disclosed, CNN’s Seven News reported earlier that the women were “forced to undergo an ambulance search on the airport runway.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement, Wednesday, that the incident was “horrific” and “unacceptable.”
“As a father of girls, I couldn’t help but shudder at the idea that any woman, Australian or otherwise, would be subjected to this,” Morrison said. “It is important, wherever travelers are traveling, that they are able to do so without experiencing these types of accidents.”
The Qatari government said in a statement on Wednesday that the search was launched after the discovery of a newborn baby who was found wrapped in a plastic bag and left in a trash bin at Hamad International Airport.
“The child was rescued from what appeared to be a terrible attempt to kill her. The baby is now safely under medical care in Doha,” the statement read.
The Hamad International Airport, where the accident occurred, had confirmed earlier that the child had been discovered and said that the medical staff were concerned “about the health and well-being of the mother who had just given birth and asked to locate her before leaving (the airport)).
The Qatari government’s statement also defended an “urgent decision” to search for the mother, but said the aim was “to prevent the perpetrators of the horrific crime from fleeing.”
The statement added, “The State of Qatar deplores any distress or assault on the personal freedoms of any traveler because of this behavior.”
Payne said the Australian government has requested Qatar for a full report on the incident.
Wolfgang Babik, one of the passengers on board the flight 908 Qatari riyals, told CNN that there was a “very tense atmosphere” on board when the women returned from the tarmac.
He said, “One of the women was crying.” “The others were shocked, and no one believed what happened. It was a private and sensitive issue. You don’t want to share that with people.”
He said the women left the plane “in good faith, as instructed by the crew.”
The Australian government said it had referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police, which told CNN it was in contact with the Department of Foreign Affairs.
This story has been updated to reflect the involvement of 13 Australian passengers in the accident.