Pregnant Kiwi Journalist Barred From Re-Entering New Zealand, Offered Refuge by Taliban

© AFP 2023 / MARTY MELVILLEThe New Zealand flag flutters outside Parliament buildings in Wellington in Wellington on October 29, 2014
The New Zealand flag flutters outside Parliament buildings in Wellington in Wellington on October 29, 2014 - Sputnik International, 1920, 30.01.2022
New Zealand is one of those countries which has not only barred the entry of visitors during the pandemic, but also adopted strict rules for its own citizens who want to come home from abroad. The condition has created a backlog of thousands of people who want to return.
A pregnant New Zealand journalist, Charlotte Bellis, has said she is forced to seek refuge in Afghanistan, as her home country has denied her a Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) spot.
The MIQ is a step introduced by New Zealand's government to stop the spread of the coronavirus in which entry is given via a lottery system. All individuals upon arrival are quarantined for 10 days at military-run hotels. In early January, a queue of 16,000 people was vying to book one of 1,250 available rooms.
Charlotte Bellis worked for Al Jazeera in Afghanistan covering the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan and returned to Qatar, Al Zareera's headquarters, in September last year. Upon returning, she realised that she was pregnant, but did not reveal it as sex before marriage and unmarried pregnancy is illegal in Qatar.
Bellis, who is due to give birth to a girl in May, is currently residing in Belgium, her partner's country. Her partner, Jim Huylebroek, is a freelance photographer and a contributor to The New York Times.
She has been trying to get to New Zealand, but has been unable to get an MIQ spot through the lottery system so far.
"I wasn't triggered by the disappointment and uncertainty, but by the breach of trust", Bellis wrote in an open letter published by The New Zealand Herald on Friday.

"That in my time of need, the New Zealand Government said you're not welcome here", she wrote.

Bellis, who cannot not overstay in Belgium as she is not a resident, said she had set up a meeting with her senior Taliban contacts as she has a visa for Afghanistan only and asked if her pregnancy would be a problem if she arrives there. She was told it would not be.

"Just tell people you're married and if it escalates, call us. Don't worry", Taliban officials said, according to Bellis.

The New Zealand government had previously announced plans to begin a staggered reopening of the border for vaccinated travellers in mid-February. However, with the emergence of Omicron, that plan has been pushed out, and no alternative date has been announced for when border restrictions may ease.
"I am writing this because I believe in transparency, and I believe that we as a country are better than this. [Prime Minister] Jacinda Ardern is better than this", Bellis added.
New Zealand’s COVID-19 response minister, Chris Hipkins, told The New Zealand Herald that he had asked officials to check whether they had followed the proper procedures in Bellis’ case, “which appeared at first sight to warrant further explanation”.
Bellis' application status on the MIQ website has changed to “under review” from “rejected” since Hipkins got involved.
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