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Pregnant New Zealand journalist who sought refuge in Afghanistan after being locked out of her own country offered chance to return, govt says

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A pregnant reporter shut out of her native New Zealand has been offered a place in the country’s quarantine system.

Charlotte Bellis’s situation gained worldwide media attention after she said she was forced to turn to Afghanistan’s Taliban for refuge after being locked out of New Zealand due to its strict COVID border policies.

But in a news conference on Tuesday, New Zealand’s deputy prime minister Grant Robertson said that the government department in charge of the system that ensures people do not have COVID-19 before they enter the country had now offered her a place, as well as flight arrangements.

He added: “There is a place in MIQ (Managed Isolation and Quarantine) for Ms Bellis and I urge her to take it up.”

It is not yet clear if Bellis, who is 25 weeks pregnant, has accepted the place.

Mr Robertson denied that Bellis was given preferential treatment because she had gained a worldwide audience for her complaint, resulting in embarrassment for a government proud of its COVID policies.

He said: “What it sends is a message that the staff of (the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment) who have to deal with emergency application are dealing with very difficult and challenging cases on a daily basis.

“They always try to make contact with people and try to make arrangements that work.”

Pic: Jim Huylebroek
Image:
Bellis gained worldwide media attention after she said she was forced to turn to Afghanistan’s Taliban for refuge. Pic: Jim Huylebroek

Bellis, 35, is expecting her first child with Belgian partner and news photographer Jim Huylebroek.

Both had been based in Afghanistan while Bellis reported in that country for Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera.

She found out she was pregnant soon after returning to Qatar late last year, news that forced her to resign and leave the country, as being unmarried and pregnant is illegal.

She said she tried to stay in Belgium but the lengthy residency process would have left her with an expired visa.

In the end, she returned to Afghanistan with the reassurance of Taliban contacts that she would be safe, despite the regime’s strict interpretation of Islam.

Meanwhile, she continued her attempts to find a way back to New Zealand, initially joining the many thousands of overseas-based New Zealanders trying to get a place in mandatory hotel isolation via a government-run lottery.

Pic: Jim Huylebroek
Image:
It is not yet clear if Bellis, who is 25 weeks pregnant, has accepted the place. Pic: Jim Huylebroek

The strict border policy has played a large part in the country’s low COVID-19 case numbers but it has also been heavily criticised for keeping many New Zealand citizens effectively locked out of their own country.

With no success in the lottery and with her pregnancy advancing as she waited in impoverished Afghanistan, Bellis applied for allocation under the emergency scheme, which allows places for people who fit into a narrow list of categories. But she was rejected.

Her story came to light when she wrote a column in the New Zealand Herald soon afterwards, saying: “When the Taliban offers you – a pregnant, unmarried woman – safe haven, you know your situation is messed up.”

She later said: “It is my legal right to go to New Zealand, where I have health care, where I have family. All my support is there.”

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