Pregnant New Zealand journalist turns to Taliban for help after her application to return home gets rejected

The reporter said it is ‘brutally ironic’ that the Taliban have assured her she would be safe

Lamiat Sabin
Monday 31 January 2022 03:49 GMT
Reporting from Kabul airport after US completes exit

A pregnant TV reporter from New Zealand said she has had to seek help from the Taliban after she was not able to return to her home country from Afghanistan due to Covid quarantine rules.

Charlotte Bellis said it was “brutally ironic” that she had once questioned the Taliban about their treatment of women and she was now asking the same questions of the New Zealand government.

In her job, she had asked the Taliban whether they would uphold women’s rights after they took control of Afghanistan in August 2021.

Now she has written in a column published in the New Zealand Herald on Saturday that New Zealand has refused to give her a place in its “managed isolation and quarantine” (MIQ) system that would enable her to return home.

She is still in Afghanistan with her Belgian partner, New York Times photographer Jim Huylebroek. The pair are not married, which could have posed an issue for the Taliban. But it has assured her that she will be safe there, Ms Bellis said.

She wrote: “When the Taliban offers you – a pregnant, unmarried woman – safe haven, you know your situation is messed up.”

Ms Bellis had worked for Qatari-owned channel Al Jazeera, in Doha, during the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

In September, she discovered that she was pregnant – unexpectedly, because doctors had told her that she could never have children. Her “miracle” baby is a girl due to be born in May, she said.

As it is illegal in Qatar to be pregnant while unmarried, she applied for an MIQ place through the New Zealand government’s lottery system but was unsuccessful.

She then flew to Belgium with her partner, who is an EU citizen, but she has already used up half of her time allowance – three of every six months in the Schengen zone – as of this month.

Ms Bellis, who is now five months pregnant, wrote: “We wanted to keep time up our sleeves for an emergency, so decided to rebase.

“The problem was the only other place we had visas to live was Afghanistan.”

She then called her contacts in the Taliban and asked if she and Mr Huylebroek would be OK being in Afghanistan despite her being pregnant and unmarried.

She said they told her: “Just tell people you’re married and if it escalates, call us. Don’t worry.”

Her situation has sparked criticism over the “unimaginably cruel” MIQ system from high-profile figures, including opposition politicians.

New Zealand’s Covid-19 response minister, Chris Hipkins, told the Herald his office had asked officials to check whether they had followed the proper procedures in Ms Bellis’s case, “which appeared at first sight to warrant further explanation”.

Thousands of New Zealand citizens are stranded abroad because of a lack of space in the MIQ system.

The requirement, set by prime minister Jacinda Ardern, to spend 10 days isolating in quarantine hotels run by the military has led to a backlog of people wanting to secure a spot.

Ms Bellis said she had sent 59 documents to New Zealand authorities in Afghanistan but they rejected her application for an emergency return.

Chris Bunny, the joint head of the MIQ system, told the Herald that her emergency application did not fit a requirement that she travel within 14 days.

He said staff had contacted Ms Bellis about making another application that would fit within the requirements.

Mr Bunny added: “This is not uncommon and is an example of the team being helpful to New Zealanders who are in distressing situations.”

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