A woman stuck in Kabul, Afghanistan, is trying to get back into her home country. She’s 25-weeks pregnant and triple vaccinated, but that’s not good enough for the New Zealand government to allow her back in. With few other options, she’s now relying on the Taliban for help.
Charlotte Bellis, 35, is a Belgian reporter who now calls New Zealand home, a home that is denying her re-entry because of its COVID-19 policies. “This is ridiculous. It is my legal right to go to New Zealand, where I have health care, where I have family. All my support is there,” she said according to the Associated Press.
Bellis was in Afghanistan to report on the Taliban’s return to power following the disastrous withdrawal of U.S. forces in late August. She famously asked the Taliban in a press conference following their return to power what they planned on doing to “protect the rights of women and girls.”
The Al Jazeera reporter wrote a column in the New Zealand Herald last week, explaining her situation. She wrote that she first discovered she was pregnant upon returning to Qatar, where she was based for work, following her trip to Afghanistan. Soon, Bellis realized she was in a difficult position. She explained in her column:
When I returned to Doha in September, I realised that I was a few days late. Impossible, I thought, I couldn’t be pregnant, surely it was the stress of the last few months. But imagine if I was? It is illegal to be pregnant and unmarried in Qatar. Jim, my partner and a photographer for The New York Times, was in Kabul and couldn’t get out. I couldn’t get back into New Zealand.
Bellis tried over and over to re-enter her home country of New Zealand, but because of the country’s strict COVID-19 restrictions, her attempts were futile.
New Zealand, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, uses a lottery system for citizens who are re-entering the country. Since the government requires all travelers coming into the country to quarantine for 10 days before returning to society, their facilities are often backlogged with thousands of people waiting to get in.
“With Jim stuck in Kabul, we made a plan to keep everything secret until I was safely out of Qatar and try to get an MIQ spot in New Zealand. I immediately started playing the MIQ lottery, waking up at 3am and staring at my computer, only to miss out time and again,” she wrote.
Bellis explained of her hope being crushed again when New Zealand delayed its border opening originally planned for the end of February. “We were devastated. There was no way home other than to apply for emergency MIQ spots. We had read the horror stories of pregnant women being rejected, seen the statistics of just 5 per cent of Kiwis being approved if they are unable to stay in their current location and only 14 per cent being approved if there is a risk to their health and safety.”
Bellis and her partner submitted 59 documents to the New Zealand government explaining their situation and requesting entry into the country. They even sent a cover letter written by their lawyer, but they were rejected. Bellis wrote:
I had tried to prepare for this day. I thought I would cry, but I was in shock. I had done everything they asked. What was the threshold? What more can I do? How did they want me to prove that giving birth was a scheduled, time-critical medical treatment? Did they want me to be induced so there was a firm date? And how to prove that Afghanistan did not offer the same maternity care as in New Zealand?
New Zealand has offered Bellis another option of getting back into the country: applying as a person in danger, which “would exonerate the government of responsibility for her earlier rejections,” according to the AP. But Bellis isn’t ready to take that option and let the government off the hook. “It gives them an opportunity to deny any responsibility and frankly that is not true,” she said.
For now, Bellis and her partner are waiting it out in Kabul, fighting for their right to return home and relying on the Taliban, who according to Bellis, has responded to her situation positively.
She summarized her situation frankly: “When the Taliban offers you – a pregnant, unmarried woman – safe haven, you know your situation is messed up.”