A few days ago Qatar Airways made global headlines after an abandoned newborn was found in a bathroom at Doha’s Hamad International Airport, which somehow led to at least 13 Australian women being strip searched.
In particular this has caused a huge diplomatic spat between Australia and Qatar, so what does the government of the Gulf state have to say for itself?
Qatar “regrets” any distress on personal freedoms
Here’s the first official statement that Qatar’s Government Communications Office has shared about the incident:
“On 2nd October 2020, a newborn infant was found in a trash can, concealed in a plastic bag and buried under garbage, at Hamad International Airport (HIA). The baby girl was rescued from what appeared to be a shocking and appalling attempt to kill her. The infant is now safe under medical care in Doha.
This was the first instance of an abandoned infant being discovered in such a condition at HIA – this egregious and life-threatening violation of the law triggered an immediate search for the parents, including on flights in the vicinity of where the newborn was found. While the aim of the urgently-decided search was to prevent the perpetrators of the horrible crime from escaping, the State of Qatar regrets any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveler caused by this action.
His Excellency Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior of the State of Qatar has directed that a comprehensive, transparent investigation into the incident be conducted. The results of the investigation will be shared with our international partners. The State of Qatar remains committed to ensuring the safety, security and comfort of all travelers transiting through the country.”
Women on 10 flights were searched, as it turns out
13 women on a flight to Australia being strip searched is bad enough, but the situation goes way beyond that. Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Marise Payne, has now said that 10 different flights were caught up in this search. I’m surprised that this wasn’t a bigger story sooner.
My take on this Qatar situation
Let me start by saying that it’s horrifying that someone abandoned a newborn in a plastic bag underneath trash in an airport bathroom. I just can’t even begin to image… it’s beyond words. I think that’s something we can all agree on, and at least one small positive in this story is that the newborn is apparently doing well.
That aside, the question remains of how we go from an abandoned newborn to (apparently) dozens of women being strip searched to see if they may have just given birth:
- I think the airport authorities were totally justified in preventing flights from leaving as they investigated what happened
- Airports have a countless number of security cameras, so presumably they had a way of determining who had entered or exited the bathroom around the time that the baby was abandoned, so that they could at least narrow down suspects
- It’s not clear whether authorities believed that someone gave birth in the bathroom, or that someone brought the newborn to the airport in order to abandon them (if so, were they originating in Doha or connecting?)
- Keep in mind that Qatar Airways doesn’t allow expectant mothers that are more than 39 weeks pregnant to fly, and requires a doctor’s note starting at 28 weeks of pregnancy; in other words, if the passenger appeared far along in her pregnancy at check-in and gave birth in Doha, presumably the airline should be able to narrow this down if documentation was checked correctly
Who on earth thought that the way to start investigating this situation was to inspect the private parts of every woman departing on a flight? Who authorized this? How did the conversation go?
“Boss, how should we start to figure out who may have abandoned the baby?”
“Let’s start by strip searching every woman who has a flight out of here.”
This is unbelievably primitive, a violation of basic human rights, and arguably sexual assault.
The government of Qatar says it will be transparent with international partners about its investigation. I’m skeptical, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough. Personally I think Qatar’s statement is a bit of a non-apology, along the lines of “I’m sorry if you’re offended.”
The country simply “regrets any distress of infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveler caused by this action.” It doesn’t acknowledge that its approach was incorrect and dehumanizing. Final results of the investigation aside, those who were strip searched, especially without any actual cause beyond their gender, deserve an apology, full stop.
The government of Qatar has issued its first statement about the recent incident at Doha Hamad International Airport. It’s horrible to think that a newborn was abandoned in the trash in an airport bathroom, though fortunately the newborn is apparently doing fine.
What remains to be seen is how it was decided to strip search the women on as many as 10 different flights to figure out who may have given birth.
The country needs to perform a quick and transparent investigation if it wants to continue to be a global hub that people are comfortable traveling through.
What do you make of the explanation from Qatar’s government?