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New blow for Aussies in airport hell

    A group of Australian women have spoken out about the horror treatment they received at a Qatar airport a year ago, revealing fresh details about the humiliating incident and threatening legal action.

    In a move that received condemnation from around the world, on October 2 last year 13 Australian women were removed from planes in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar and physically violated.

    Authorities had been trying to find the mother of a newborn at Hamad International Airport in Doha. Believing a crime had occurred, they rounded up women of child-bearing age who were then forced to undergo invasive internal examinations.

    Among the victims was a nurse using the pseudonym Jane, who revealed to Channel 9’s 60 Minutes on Sunday night that the women’s fight for answers – and an apology – has been met with silence.

    When news of the incident broke, Prime Minister Scott Morrison vowed to take action, but more than a year later the victims say they have heard nothing. This has added a feeling of outrage to their ongoing distress, and inspired two more victims to speak to the media about the terrifying incident.

    60 Minutes host Sarah Abo, who had first spoken to Jane last year, said it was one of the most shocking stories she’d ever heard.

    Jane said the terrifying incident had occurred while sitting on a Qatar Airways flight that was about to take off for Sydney: “Police were coming on the plane and they had guns and things I didn’t know if it was a hostage situation, I didn’t know if it was a terrorist situation.

    “We felt like criminals really.”

    She remembered being told: “A baby has been found in a bin and we need to test you”.

    Jane said: “I just remember thinking, “What are they going to test for? What’s going to be done to me right now?”

    A year later, the big question remains, why did this happen?

    “We’re struggling because we’re all wondering why.”

    Airport officials with the baby. Picture: Channel 9

    Airport officials with the baby. Picture: Channel 9

    Anna and her five-month-old boy were also on-board the plane, and were terrified.

    “I thought that now we’re kidnapped,” Anna said. “ … It was the scariest moment of my life.”

    Also sitting close by was Sophie, who recalled hearing a chilling announcement after a four hour delay.

    “There was a message over the loudspeaker ‘can all women disembark the aeroplane with their passports?’,” Sophie said. “And that just for me everything just went silent and the ringing in your ears that starts when you’re stressed.”

    The women were ordered off the plane and down to the airport tarmac.

    Anna said: “And that’s the moment where I broke down and the other women started getting really uneasy because we realised something sinister is happening here. I was crying and just squeezing my baby and shaking.”

    They were then divided into groups and taken to a row of ambulances. Anna recalled being told to lay on the bed, and being told they were looking for the mother of a baby found in a toilet.

    “I thought that’s going to be it … she is going to feel tummy over my clothes and that’s it right … and then I just felt that she grabbed my pants and my underwear and she stripped

    them.

    “And for a second I just I think my head was about to explode because I didn’t know what happened.”

    The women, including Anna, went through quite the ordeal. Picture: Channel 9

    The women, including Anna, went through quite the ordeal. Picture: Channel 9

    The examinations took about five minutes, then the women were taken back to the plane.

    Sophie said: “I felt full of rage leaving the ambulance that I didn’t have a stronger voice that I allowed that to take place that maybe I didn’t protest enough before. I felt pretty powerless against what had happened.”

    Anna said: “It’s a humiliation and the abuse of power, the 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’s what happened.

    “And that’s what happened in a major airport.”

    Forced to undergo hotel quarantine once back in Australia, Sophie then called the Australian Federal Police and an investigation was launched.

    Sophie also spoke to 60 Minutes. Picture: Channel 9

    Sophie also spoke to 60 Minutes. Picture: Channel 9

    Upon the scandal making headlines, Qatar’s prime minister described the incident as “unacceptable” and promised to “hold those responsible to account”.

    However, one officer was found to blame for the incident after an investigation in Doha, and he reportedly received a suspended sentence, but no jail time.

    And a year later, the women are angry as they feel they have been forgotten.

    Lawyer Damian Sturzaker is representing 7 of the 13 Australians and has begun action against Qatar Airways and the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority, accusing them of assault, battery and deprivation of the women’s liberty.

    “What I saw here was a group of women who had tried even at that point to adopt a reasonable tone and to try and conciliate an outcome with the Qatari authorities,” Mr Sturzaker said.

    “And they were being ignored … Certainly, the sort of conduct that occurred here was in breach of many international covenants and obviously in breach of human rights.”

    He is seeking a reasonable outcome for the women, and positive steps to be taken to guarantee the safety of people travelling through Doha.

    The Qatar Embassy said they were considering the women’s complaint, while Qatar Airways has allegedly refused to meet or mediate with the women, saying their claim had “no merit”.

    Qatar is considering the women's complaint. Picture: Channel 9

    Qatar is considering the women’s complaint. Picture: Channel 9

    Anna said: “It’s not only me but any of the other women, we haven’t heard from them, not a single word.”

    The women are also disappointed in the silence from the Prime Minister, who at a media conference on Friday said the scandal had been dealt with.

    When asked by a reporter what the Australian Government has been doing to help the women, Scott Morrison said: “Well what I’m pleased about is the representations that we’ve made. I’m very pleased.

    “But there was an investigation, there has been a conviction, and there’s been a significant change to airport processes in Qatar.”

    However, the women have not heard about any change in practices.

    When asked if the Australian government had done enough, Sophie said: “No … I think we’ve been ignored. And yeah, the Australian government hasn’t come across as a strong support at all, and we feel pretty angry about that.”

    The Prime Minister and Foreign Minister were approached for interviews by 60 Minutes but declined.

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