New Zealand journalist pregnant in Afghanistan can return home

WELLINGTON (AP) -- Tuesday saw a pregnant journalist from New Zealand who was left in Afghanistan by the COVID-19 border policies of her home country. She said that her government had offered her a way back and she would return home.

New Zealand journalist pregnant in Afghanistan can return home

After officials earlier said that Charlotte Bellis must reapply to be allowed to stay in one of the country's quarantine hotels, New Zealand's government offered a concession. Grant Robertson, Deputy Prime Minister, said Bellis was offered a voucher for one room.

Bellis released a statement saying that she would be returning home to New Zealand to give birth to her baby girl at the beginning March. We are thrilled to be back home, surrounded by our family and friends during this special time.

Her case quickly became an embarrassment for New Zealand, which has thousands waiting abroad for space in its military-run border quarantine hotels.

Bellis stated that she would like to express gratitude to fellow New Zealanders and will continue to challenge government officials to solve its border control problems. Bellis expressed disappointment that the decision was not permanent and did not offer any way home for pregnant New Zealanders.

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On Sunday, she said that every day was a struggle. She is now 25 weeks pregnant and said that she tried unsuccessfully to enter New Zealand using a lottery system. Then she applied for an emergency return but was denied.

Chris Bunny is the head of New Zealand’s quarantine system. He said that the new offer was made by Bellis because Afghanistan was very dangerous and there was a danger of terrorist attacks. He stated that there was limited help available to the ground after the withdrawal by the U.S. troops last year.

Bunny stated that "We acknowledge that Ms Bellis considers herself to be safe" and that they did not request an allocation on this ground. "We still have the discretion to allocate allocations in exceptional and rare circumstances."

Bunny stated that the public attention surrounding the case wasn't a deciding factor, and that the only consideration was Bellis safety.

Bellis, 35 years old, was a correspondent in Afghanistan for Al Jazeera (a Qatar-based news channel). In November, it was illegal in Qatar to be unmarried or pregnant.

Bellis flew to Belgium to try to obtain residency in her partner, Jim Huylebroek (a freelance photographer who has lived in Afghanistan since 2002). Bellis claimed that the lengthy process would have resulted in her being stuck in Belgium with an expired visa.

It would have been expensive and time-consuming to travel from one country to another while she waited for her baby. So she and Huylebroek went to Afghanistan to get a visa. They felt welcomed and could fight her return to her homeland.

Officials from New Zealand said that they would add Huylebroek's voucher to Bellis's if he flew the same flight as her.

Chris Hipkins, New Zealand's COVID-19 Response Ministry, stated this week that although officials had to make difficult decisions, the quarantine system had saved lives and prevented the health system becoming overwhelmed.

International criticism has been levelled at the Taliban for the repressive rules that they have imposed on women since their rise to power in August, which included denying girls education beyond sixth grade. They have stated that all women and girls will be allowed to go to school after the Afghan New Years at the end March. Women have been permitted to return to work in the education and health ministries but thousands of female civil servants are still not allowed to go back to their jobs.

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