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"I was in shock." Jane was one of the 13 Australian women invasively searched in Qatar.

When armed Qatari authorities boarded a plane sitting on Doha's Hamad International Airport tarmac and ordered all women to exit the aircraft with their passports, Jane* feared for her life.

She wondered if she was being kidnapped or if it was a hostage situation. Would she ever see her husband or family again? What would happen to her if she refused to go with the men?

Two men with guns escorted Jane off the plane. There was a language barrier, and the men did not answer any of Jane's frantic questions. Then she was taken into a waiting ambulance.

Watch: Jane shares her experience on 60 Minutes. Post continues below video.


Video via 60 Minutes.

There, a female doctor told her that a baby had been abandoned and she needed to be 'checked'. 

Not long before, a newborn baby was discovered abandoned in an airport rubbish bin. In response, airport authorities decided every woman in the airport or sitting on the tarmac were suspects and would be searched with invasive internal examinations.

Jane was among 18 women, including 13 Australians, who were forced to undergo an invasive medical procedure in Qatar on October 2.

She and her husband were returning home to Australia after three years in London. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic shut borders, cancelled flights and made returning home difficult for thousands of Australians overseas, Jane and her husband had considered themselves lucky to be on the flight between London and Sydney, with a layover in Doha.

Qatari authorities discovered a baby abandoned in a Doha airport. Image: 60 Minutes.

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But as Jane, who spoke to 60 Minutes under a pseudonym to ensure her safety, found herself in that ambulance, she recalled being terrified and humiliated when instructed to remove her pants and underwear.

"I said 'I don't feel comfortable removing my underwear' and I was physically holding them up," Jane told reporter Sarah Abo, who wiped away tears.

Jane had to pull them down and was examined, without consent.

"I was in shock at that stage. I remember laying there thinking this isn't right, this shouldn't be happening," she said.

Jane felt like she'd been in the ambulance for hours, but in reality it had only been a few minutes. After being violated, the Qatari woman told her she was free to go back to the plane.

She returned and told her husband what had happened.

Jane spoke anonymously about her experience. Image: 60 Minutes.

Physically, the assault was over but emotionally, Jane has been dealing with lingering trauma.

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"It hits you when you least expect it. I was just carrying on with my life and I thought I was okay.

"I went through a shopping centre recently and went to the bathroom, and when I was in the cubicle, I just had a panic attack and I really didn't think that was going to happen," she explained through tears.

"We're seeking help from professionals now to discuss it with someone and talk through it all because obviously we're not okay. And even though I thought I was, I'm clearly not."

After the women's assaults were reported, the news made international headlines.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said the Federal Government has formally expressed concerns with Qatar, which promised an official report into the incidents.

"The Australian Government is deeply concerned at the unacceptable treatment of some female passengers on a recent Qatar Airways flight at Doha Airport," she said.

"The advice that has been provided indicates that the treatment of the women concerned was offensive, grossly inappropriate, and beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent.

"The Government has formally registered our serious concerns about this incident with Qatari authorities."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was "unacceptable".

"It was appalling. As a father of daughters, I could only shudder at the thought that anyone would, Australian or otherwise, would be subjected to that."

Image: 60 Minutes.

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Qatar's government responded in late October, saying in a statement that it "regrets any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveler".

Qatar promised results from a "comprehensive, transparent investigation" would be shared with its international partners. 

Its Prime Minister Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani tweeted "we regret the unacceptable treatment of the female passengers at HIA" and promised to hold those responsible to account.

Qatari authorities never tracked down the mother of the abandoned baby, who is believed to be safe and well in the care of social workers.

If she is ever discovered, it is likely she would be imprisoned. Having sex or becoming pregnant outside of marriage is a crime in Qatar.

Human Rights Watch women's rights researcher told the ABC these laws, as well as criminalised abortion, meant abandoned babies were "not uncommon".

"It's rare but it does happen largely because of the criminalisation of sexual relations outside of wedlock, which disproportionately impacts migrant women."

Jane and the other Australian women hold no ill will towards the mother of the baby.

"We're scared for that mum. We do think of her," Jane told 60 Minutes.

"Being a woman ourselves, we can't begin to imagine what she was feeling to think she was in that situation and that's what she had to do with that young baby.

"I'm sure she felt she had no choice either, so it's sort of a recurring theme here. I think the way that women are treated is horrific, really."

Feature image: 60 Minutes/Getty.

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