Kabul: A pregnant reporter fights NZ government to return home

ISLAMABAD (AP), -- She covered the desperate conditions that Afghan mothers and children face to survive. A pregnant reporter from New Zealand has made Kabul her temporary home to fight for her return. This is due to strict COVID-19 entry regulations.

Kabul: A pregnant reporter fights NZ government to return home

Charlotte Bellis, 35 years old, is expecting her first baby with Jim Huylebroek (a freelance photographer from Belgium who has lived in Afghanistan since 2002). Bellis, now 25 weeks pregnant, said Sunday to The Associated Press that every day is a struggle.

She claimed she was vaccinated three more times and will be able to self-isolate upon her return to New Zealand. This is absurd. It is my legal right, and I can go to New Zealand where I have access to health care and where I am close to family. She said that all her support was there.

Bellis wrote her first column in The New Zealand Herald, Saturday. Bellis had previously tried unsuccessfully to enter New Zealand through a lottery system. She then applied for an emergency leave but was denied.

Due to a blockage in the border quarantine system, thousands of New Zealanders have been unable to return home.

Chris Hipkins, New Zealand's COVID-19 Response minister, stated Monday that officials suggested Bellis amend her application.

"I just want to make it clear that there is a place for people with special circumstances such as Ms Bellis in Managed Isolation or Quarantine. Hipkins stated that no one is saying there isn't. Hipkins said that while officials had to make difficult decisions, the quarantine system had saved lives and prevented the health system becoming overwhelmed.

Bellis claims that the decisions were arbitrary. Bellis claimed she sent numerous documents to New Zealand authorities, including ultrasounds as well as letters from doctors indicating her due date of May 19. She claimed she was rejected by New Zealand authorities because her pregnancy did not meet the criteria for "threshold or critical time threat."

She asked, "If I don’t meet the threshold for a pregnant lady, then who does?"

Bellis was a correspondent in Afghanistan for Al Jazeera (a Qatar-based news channel). Bellis resigned in November because it is illegal to become pregnant or unmarried in Qatar. Al Jazeera did no immediate respond to a request to comment.

Bellis flew to Belgium to apply for residency. However, Bellis said that the lengthy process would have resulted in her being stuck in Belgium with an expired visa. Bellis stated that she could have traveled from one country to another on tourist visas while waiting to have her child. She claimed that this would have been a way for her to spend money on hotels while she fought to get back to New Zealand.

She and her partner ended up returning to Afghanistan as they had a visa and felt welcomed. From there, she could fight for her return to her homeland. She said that they have a house in Afghanistan, and she had "evaluated all options".

Bellis stated that she has given herself a deadline to leave Afghanistan when she is pregnant at 30 weeks. This was in order to protect her and her baby's health. She said, "I am giving my self to the end February." She will have more than one month on her Belgia visa, so she can still re-enter Belgium if she doesn't get back to New Zealand.

She stated that she tried to remain calm while she waged a paper war against New Zealand's quarantine systems, but that she was worried about the impact on her baby from all of the stress she had been experiencing.

She stated, "I am very concerned regarding a premature birth and... also the implication stress,"

Bellis found an Afghan gynecologist who she promised would call her whenever she woke up in the morning with a problem. Bellis visited the clinic, which includes one incubator. Bellis was informed by the doctor that the incubator is frequently occupied.

Bellis found a pro bono lawyer to handle her case. She has submitted more than 60 documents to New Zealand's government and answered many questions. However, she was rejected twice for entry to her home nation.

She received an email on Sunday from the New Zealand government informing her that she should apply for asylum as a person in imminent danger. This would allow her to return home.

Bellis stated that she had sought permission from Taliban before returning to Afghanistan. Bellis said that she feared that arriving in Afghanistan "with a little bump but not married" might be problematic.

The Taliban responded immediately and positively.

Although this is not official Taliban policy, they were extremely kind and generous. Bellis said that they said "you are safe here, congratulations and we welcome you".

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.

Bellis, as she contemplates her next move said that she is considering whether to apply as a person of danger for New Zealand's latest option. This would free the government from any responsibility for her rejections in the past.

She stated that it gave them the opportunity to "deny any responsibility" and she was not wrong. COVID-19's current policy has left many people around the globe without a way to return home.

Hipkins, the New Zealand minister said that officials had offered Bellis many options. Bellis stated that Sunday's offer to her as a person in imminent danger was the only alternative after her rejections.

Hipkins stated, "I encourage her take these offers seriously."

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