Qatar strip search: Witness opens up about terrifying ordeal

A passenger, one of nine Australian women dragged off a Qatar Airways flight in Doha, has revealed the horror of the invasive examinations Qatari authorities conducted after the discovery of an abandoned baby inside the airport’s bathroom.

Speaking to the Guardian Australia, Kim Mills said she was one of nine women taken off the flight bound for Sydney earlier this month.

Ms Mills said she was escorted off the flight – alongside a number of other female passengers – and take through Hamad International Airport to what she recalls as being a dark carpark or turning circle, according to the publication. There, Ms Mills said three ambulances were waiting to perform invasive medical examinations to determine if any of the women had recently given birth.

The incident, which has been reported to the Australian Federal Police, has been described by Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne as “grossly disturbing and offensive” and unlike anything she “had ever heard of”.

While Ms Mills was not subjected to the examination. she witnessed other younger passengers “distraught” by the ordeal and that some were told to remove their underwear for the examination.

“They told me to step forward, to go into the ambulance, and as I stepped forward another officer came round and stood in front of me and said: ‘No, no, you go, you go,’” Ms Mills said.

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Australian women from a Qatar Airways flight were removed from the aircraft and subjected to invasive examinations Qatari authorities. Picture: Karim Jaafar/AFPSource:AFP

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“And as I was standing there with this officer telling me to go, a young lass came out of the ambulance and she was crying and distraught.

“I just turned around and started walking with her trying to comfort her. I said, ‘What’s wrong, what’s going on?’ And she told me that they’d found a baby in the bathroom at the airport and they were examining all the women.

“I was the luckiest one on the whole flight because I have grey hair and I’m in my 60s. They probably looked at me and thought well, that’s impossible, it could not be her.”

One woman told the ABC that the escorts did not speak English, or explained to the women being removed from the flight what was happening.

“It was terrifying,” one of the women, who didn’t want to be identified, told the ABC.

“A mother near me had left her sleeping children on the plane. There was an elderly woman who was vision-impaired and she had to go too. I’m pretty sure she was searched.”

The other woman said the escorts “never explained anything” and they were simply told to pull their pants down “to examine my vagina,” she said.

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The flight was about to depart Doha for Sydney. Picture: Peter Parks/AFPSource:AFP

Ms Mills said during her removal off the aircraft, while still dressed in her pyjamas and slippers, she was “absolutely terrified” because no one would explain why she – and other female passengers – were being removed.

“They took me downstairs in a lift which felt like you were going down to the bottom of the airport. And then I came out of the lift and there were two officers, and they started walking towards big glass sliding doors. I thought, what are they doing with me, where are they taking me? All of these things are going through my head. I still didn’t know the reason.”

Ms Mills said that through the glass window she could see personnel dressed in surgical clothes, and assumed that perhaps the examination had something to do with coronavirus.

Ms Mills said that following the examination, and a brief interview, she and the other Qatar Airways passengers were allowed back on flight 908 bound for Sydney.

“My legs were just wobbling,” she said of the moment she boarded the plane following the ordeal.

“I was just so pleased to be back on the plane because I was terrified they were going to take me away somewhere.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said Australia took the matter ‘extremely seriously’. Picture: Gary Ramage/NCA NewsWireSource:News Corp Australia

“It was absolutely terrible. I can’t imagine what it was like for those poor young girls; it must have been horrendous. I’m a mother of three daughters and when I got back on the plane and reflected on it and thought, I am so glad it wasn’t any of my girls.”

In a statement, Hamad International Airport said the child was safe and being cared for by medical and social workers.

It said medical professionals expressed concern to officials about the health and welfare of the mother and wanted to find her, and asked that she was found before she left the airport.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said Australia took the matter “extremely seriously” and had taken it up with Qatari authorities here and in Doha.

“I understand inquiries are still taking place by those people affected by this occurrence and we also understand the matter has been reported to the Australian Federal Police,” she said.

“This is a grossly, grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events. It is not something I have ever heard of occurring in my life, in any context, (and) we have made our views very clear to the Qatari authorities on this matter.”

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