New Zealand turns away pregnant journalist  in Afghanistan

New Zealand’s Zero Covid zealots tell pregnant Kiwi journalist who is stranded in Afghanistan ‘we’ll get back to you as soon as we can’ and ask her to fill in MORE forms before deciding if they’ll allow her to escape the Taliban

  • Pregnant reporter Charlotte Bellis had application to return to NZ delayed again 
  • She submitted 59 documents in an attempt to get back, but was turned down 
  • Told by authorities ‘more information is required before a decision can be made’
  • Ms Bellis has hit back, insisting authorities have all the information they need 
  • Journalist is stranded in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and fears for her baby

A pregnant New Zealand journalist stranded in Afghanistan has hit out at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government after they again brushed off her application to return home with a bureaucratic letter. 

Broadcast journalist Charlotte Bellis, 35, repeatedly tried to return home after learning she was pregnant in September last year.

She submitted 59 documents to New Zealand officials in Afghanistan in an attempt to secure an emergency return home, but her bid was turned down.

The journalist decided to go public after she was left with no alternative but to turn to the Taliban for help.

Now, with her third trimester fast approaching, the journalist, is once again facing further delays returning home because of New Zealand’s strict closed border policy.

Ms Bellis had applied to return home under category 1A(i) of the emergency allocation application which applies to Kiwis requiring access to time-critical medical treatment unavailable or inaccessible at their location.

But the New Zealand authorities have now claimed she must apply under a different category which applies to citizens and residents ‘who are in a location or situation where there is a serious risk to their safety’.  

On Sunday, New Zealand’s Managed Isolation and Quarantine department advised her that ‘more information is required before a decision can be made’.

They went on to ask Ms Bellis to upload further evidence to her online application before adding: ‘We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.’ 

The bureaucratic letter comes after Ms Bellis warned that pregnancy can be a death sentence in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan because of the poor state of maternity care and the lack of surgical capabilities.

Pregnant New Zealand journalist Charlotte Bellis, 35, has repeatedly tried to return home after learning she was pregnant in September last year

Ms Bellis (believed to be pictured in Afghanistan) has submitted 59 documents to New Zealand officials in Afghanistan in an attempt to secure an emergency return home, but each has been brushed off

The journalist is now fast approaching her third trimester and has warned that pregnancy can be a death sentence in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan because of the poor state of maternity care and lack of surgical capabilities

Ms Bellis replied to the authorities insisting she provided everything required and requested a justification for why she should not get an exemption.

On Monday she tweeted: ‘I received a letter from a generic MIQ email address suggesting I apply via a different category for an emergency spot to return to New Zealand to give birth.’

She shared a screenshot of the generic email from the quarantine agency requesting more information to ensure ‘a fair and consistent process’.

The email also stated her original application was deactivated last week as the proposed travel dates were not within the 14 day window.

Ms Bellis said she chose travel dates outside the window due to a scarcity of flights out of Kabul and to ‘give us time to appeal if we were rejected’.  

The email suggested Ms Bellis apply under category 1A (iii), which applies to citizens and residents ‘who are in a location or situation where there is a serious risk to their safety and their only option is to return to New Zealand, taking into account advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade where relevant’.

Ms Bellis would also have to provide confirmation that returning to New Zealand is her only option.  

She has since replied to the email, claiming that applying under the category suggested by authorities does not ‘presently apply to us’.

‘The cause for return continues to be the need for time-critical medical treatment which is unavailable or inaccessible in our current location,’ Ms Bellis wrote.

‘You have all of our information. You know our situation. I want it on the record there is no change to our circumstances, no new evidence or information you have received.’

‘If you’re not approving us under the category of 1A(i), please provide your justification.’

Ms Bellis argued that applying outside the 14-day travel window under category of 1A(i) was permitted under the MIQ guidelines and that they would have to provide more evidence on top of 59 documents already submitted if they did reapply.

She also cited MIQ boss Chris Bunny, who told the New Zealand Herald on Saturday that pregnant women can apply under category 1A(i). 

Earlier this month Ms Bellis warned that pregnancy can be a death sentence in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan because of the poor state of maternity care and lack of surgical capabilities.

Charlotte Bellis has been urged by authorities in an email (pictured) to apply under a different category, where she would have to provide evidence that returning home is her only option

Ms Bellis has since replied to the email, claiming that applying under the category suggested by authorities does not ‘presently apply to us’

Charlotte Bellis (pictured with partner, Belgium photographer Jim Huylebroek) wants to return home to New Zealand before the birth of her daughter due to May

Speaking to 1News about her situation, Ms Bellis asked: ‘To the NZ Government, I ask what do you want me to do? I have done nothing wrong I got pregnant and I am a New Zealander.

‘At what point did we get so bogged down in these rules we’ve come up with that we can’t see that she’s a Kiwi in need of help and she needs to come home?’ 

Although the spread of Covid-19 has been limited in New Zealand, the nation still requires citizens to spend 10 days in isolation hotels run by the military.

The ‘zero Covid’ policy has repeatedly come under fire and the strict self-isolation restrictions have now caused a backlog of thousands of people desperate to return home.

Ms Bellis has become one of the most high-profile Kiwis to fall victim to New Zealand’s extreme border controls, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government face further embarrassment over their own policies. 

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Ms Bellis said it was ‘brutally ironic’ that while she had once questioned the Taliban about their treatment of women, she was now asking the same questions of her own government. 

‘When the Taliban offers you – a pregnant, unmarried woman – safe haven, you know your situation is messed up,’ she wrote. 

Jacinda Ardern has faced a slew of criticism from campaigners and members of the public after imposing strict Covid curbs since the start of the pandemic.

International borders were promptly closed on March 19, with a nationwide lockdown enforced on March 25 after 102 cases, and no deaths, were recorded in the country.

New Zealand has managed to keep the spread of the virus to a minimum during the pandemic and has reported 15,910 confirmed coronavirus cases and 52 deaths among its population of five million.  

The government pushed back plans for a phased reopening from mid-January to the end of February out of concern about a potential Omicron outbreak, as in neighbouring Australia.

But stories of citizens stranded abroad in dire circumstances have caused embarrassment for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government.

And Ms Bellis’s situation is particularly striking.

Last year, Ms Bellis was working for Al Jazeera covering the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan when she gained international attention by questioning Taliban leaders about their treatment of women and girls.

In her column for the Herald, she said she returned to Qatar in September and discovered she was expecting a baby with her partner, freelance photographer Jim Huylebroek, a contributor to the New York Times.

She described the pregnancy as a ‘miracle’ after earlier being told by doctors she could not have children. She is due to give birth to a girl in May.  

Pre-marital sex is illegal in Qatar and Ms Bellis said she realised she needed to leave. 

She repeatedly tried to get back to New Zealand in a lottery-style system for returning citizens but without success.    

Ms Bellis said she resigned from Al Jazeera in November and the couple moved to Mr Huylebroek’s native Belgium, but she could not stay long because she was not a resident. She said the only other place the couple had visas to live was Afghanistan.

Ms Bellis said she spoke with senior Taliban contacts who told her she would be fine if she returned to Afghanistan.

Jacinda Ardern has faced a slew of criticism from campaigners and members of the public after imposing strict Covid curbs since the start of the pandemic

Pregnant New Zealand journalist Charlotte Bellis (pictured) is stranded in Afghanistan and has turned to the Taliban for help as she remains unable to return to her homeland because of Jacinda Ardern’s draconian Covid curbs

‘Just tell people you’re married and if it escalates, call us. Don’t worry,’ she said they told her.

She said she sent 59 documents to New Zealand authorities in Afghanistan but they rejected her application for an emergency return.

New Zealand’s Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins told the Herald his office had asked officials to check whether they followed the proper procedures in Ms Bellis’s case, ‘which appeared at first sight to warrant further explanation’. 

Now Jacinda Ardern is forced into self-isolation  after coming into ‘close-contact’ with a virus carrier

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is self-isolating after coming into close contact with a person infected with the coronavirus.

The exposure came on a flight from the town of Kerikeri to the largest city of Auckland. New Zealand’s Governor-General Cindy Kiro was also on the Jan. 22 flight and has also gone into isolation.

Both women had been in the Northland region to do some filming ahead of New Zealand’s national day, Waitangi Day, on Feb. 6.

‘The Prime Minister is asymptomatic and is feeling well,’ her office said in a statement. ‘In line with Ministry of Health advice she will be tested immediately tomorrow and will isolate until Tuesday.’ 

New Zealand has managed to stamp out or contain the virus for much of the pandemic, and has reported just 52 virus deaths among its population of 5 million. But an outbreak of the omicron variant is starting to take hold and is expected to rapidly grow over the coming weeks.

About 77% of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data. 

That figure rises to 93% of those aged 12 and over, according to New Zealand officials.

Chris Bunny, the joint head of New Zealand’s Managed Isolation and Quarantine system, told the Herald that Ms Bellis’s emergency application did not fit a requirement that she travel within 14 days.

He said staff had contacted her about making another application that would fit the requirements.

‘This is not uncommon and is an example of the team being helpful to New Zealanders who are in distressing situations,’ he wrote. 

Prime Minister Ardern is yet to comment on Ms Bellis’s plight and is in self-isolation after she was declared a close contact of a Covid case. She has tested negative so far and will stay in isolation until Wednesday. 

On Monday New Zealand recorded 91 locally acquired cases and more than two thirds of the latest infections were diagnosed in Auckland.

After going public, Ms Bellis has been been flooded with online support for her efforts to return home, and was thanked for speaking out and urged by fellow Kiwis to continue the fight.

‘Please continue to fight for everyone that doesn’t have your profile. You are highlighting the absurdity and cruelty of the MIQ system, with multiple loopholes for the ultra wealthy, citizens or not,’ one commented.

Another added: ‘Many of us know people stuck overseas being treated in such a cruel way but we don’t have the means to bring it attention. Thank you.’

One urged Ms Bellis consider applying under the different category suggested by the quarantine agency.

‘Please take the olive branch that they are attempting to extend and look after yourself and baby by jumping through their suggested amended hoops ASAP,’ one wrote.

‘You can continue to highlight the absurdity and cruelty of the rules once you are safely home.’

Ms Bellis has submitted 59 documents to New Zealand officials and answered numerous questions in an attempt to secure an emergency return home.

‘This just feels like such a breach of trust,’ Ms Bellis told Radio New Zealand from Kabul on Sunday. 

Ms Bellis also hasn’t ruled out relocating to Belgium, the birthplace of her partner. 

It’s a particularly cruel twist of fate for the woman who was revered worldwide for her fearless questioning of the jihadist group’s record on women’s rights.     

Writing in the New Zealand Herald on Saturday, Ms Bellis (right) said it was ‘brutally ironic’ that while she had once questioned the Taliban about their treatment of women, she was now asking the same questions of her own government

Ms Bellis said pregnancy can be a death sentence in Afghanistan because of the poor state of maternity care and lack of surgical capabilities.

She added that after talking to lawyers, politicians and public relations people in New Zealand, her case seems to be moving forward, although she has yet to be approved passage home.

This month Ms Ardern further tightened restrictions under the country’s Covid Red Alert system, meaning a return to universal mask-wearing and stricter quarantine requirements for New Zealanders.

The PM rolled out the restrictions after just nine cases of the Omicron variant were detected in a single family that flew to Auckland for a wedding earlier this month.

Under limits incurred by New Zealand’s My Vaccine Pass, those who are unvaccinated will be unable to eat at indoor restaurants or visit gyms or hairdressers. 

Any Kiwis working in health and disability, education, fire and emergency, police, defence, and corrections must be able to show proof of having vaccines. 

From February 3, the wearing of bandanas, scarves or t-shirts pulled over the nose in public places such as gyms and cafes will be banned. 

And under new Covid curbs enforced by Ardern, all residents must wear face masks in public areas such as shops and there are limits on gatherings to a maximum of 100 people from Monday after a cluster of Omicron cases were detected in the country. 

Critics warn the extreme Zero Covid policy is ‘unworkable’ and could lead to more cases with greater number refusing to be tested in order to avoid the lengthy quarantine period (pictured, anti-vaxxer protesters at a Covid vaccination clinic in Auckland)

The changes mean Ardern was forced to postpone her own wedding. 

Anyone testing positive must now isolate for 14 instead of ten days – and household contacts have to isolate for an additional ten days on top, leaving them to stay indoors for 24 days.   

International borders were promptly closed on March 19, 2020, with a nationwide lockdown enforced on March 25 after 102 cases, and no deaths, were recorded in the country.

Almost three months later on June 8, the PM announced there had been no new community transmissions within the past fortnight and said she was ‘confident New Zealand has eliminated community transmission of Covid’.

But within two months, Auckland was placed under strict lockdown measures after just four new cases were recorded in the city area. 

A draconian ‘zero-Covid’ goal was implemented across the country, with New Zealand aiming to completely eradicate the virus from its shores.

But this policy was met with ridicule as the Delta variant ripped through the world in the summer of 2021, prompting a return to multiple weeks of lockdown for Auckland’s 1.7 million residents. 

Critics slammed the return of draconian curbs on everyday life, pointing to the fact other countries have started to reopen despite reporting thousands of new cases.  

Covid curbs introduced by New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

March 16, 2020: Mandatory self-isolation for all new arrivals, including New Zealanders into the country.

March 19: All non-residents or citizens are banned from entering the country under an international border ban.

March 25: Nationwide lockdown enforced, with only essential services allowed to open. At this stage, NZ has recorded 102 cases and 0 deaths.

June 8, 2020: Ardern announces no new community transmissions within the past fortnight and says NZ has eliminated transmission of Covid. 

August-September 2020: Auckland’s 1.7million residents endure two months of lockdown measures after 4 new cases are initially recorded.

February-March 2021: Auckland re-enters lockdown as three new Covid cases are recorded in the community.

17 August: All of New Zealand re-enters Level 4 lockdown measures for two weeks as one new community case is recorded.

October: Traffic light system is created, barring unvaccinated residents from entering businesses, gyms and barbers in ‘red’ or ‘amber’ alert areas.

January 2022: Public backlash as major events and sporting fixtures are capped at a maximum of 100 people under Covid Red Alert measures. 

January: Ardern announces she has cancelled her own wedding after nine new Omicron cases were recorded.

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