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Pregnant Journalist Had To Turn To Taliban For Help While Attempting To Return To Home Country

by : Emily Brown on :
Pregnant Journalist Had To Turn To Taliban For Help While Attempting To Return To Home Country
Pregnant Journalist Had To Turn To Taliban For Help While Attempting To Return To Home Country (@charlottebellis/Instagram/Alamy)

A pregnant journalist working overseas was forced to turn to the Taliban for help while attempting to get back into her home country of New Zealand.

Charlotte Bellis, who works for the publication Al Jazeera, realised she was pregnant in September, when she returned to her base in Doha, Qatar after having been deployed to Afghanistan. The Taliban had recently taken over, and as thousands fled the country, her partner Jim remained stuck in Kabul.

It is illegal to be pregnant and unmarried in Qatar, so during an appointment with a gynaecologist in Doha Bellis was advised either to 'get married or get out of the country as soon as possible.'

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Kabul evacuation (Alamy)
Kabul evacuation (Alamy)

Bellis and her partner decided to keep the pregnancy a secret until she was safely out of Qatar and back in New Zealand. She began to try and secure a spot in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) in her home country, but found she would 'miss out time and again'.

The journalist resigned from Al Jazeera in November, and was relieved to learn the New Zealand government planned to open its borders to citizens at the end of February. In the meantime, however, Bellis and Jim were forced to choose somewhere to wait, with the only place they had visas to live being in Afghanistan.

She organised a meeting with senior Taliban contacts, asking if she would 'have a problem' if she came to Kabul while pregnant.

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Writing for the New Zealand Herald, Bellis recalled: 'One translated for the other and they smiled. "No we're happy for you, you can come and you won't have a problem. Just tell people you're married and if it escalates, call us. Don't worry. Everything will be fine".'

Taliban in Kabul (Alamy)
Taliban in Kabul (Alamy)

The journalist described the situation of being offered a 'safe haven' by the Taliban as 'messed up', and she and Jim found themselves in greater turmoil when the reopening of the New Zealand border was delayed.

The pair talked to lawyers and submitted 59 documents in an attempt to secure an emergency hotel room, but on January 24 they woke up to an email to say they had been denied entry.

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The rejection email claimed their travel dates were insufficient and that MIQ claimed they 'did not provide any evidence' of having 'scheduled medical treatment in New Zealand', prompting Bellis to wonder how they wanted her to prove that 'giving birth was a scheduled, time-critical medical treatment?'

Bellis was 'determined' to leave by the time she was 30 weeks pregnant, so called her lawyer to ask for an appeal, as well as a friend in PR and a National Party MP.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins was informed of her case, and the journalist learned MIQ had reviewed her emergency allocation application and it was now 'in progress'.

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The journalist questioned why she and Jim were the ones to have their application overturned when thousands of other New Zealanders had been rejected, noting it was 'seemingly, because of who we are and the resources we have.'

She wrote: 'I thought back to August, and how brutally ironic it was, that I had asked the Taliban what they would do to ensure the rights of women and girls. And now, I am asking the same question of my own government.'

She stressed that 'the decision of who should get an emergency MIQ spot is not made on a level playing field', adding: 'Who is more important – let's let MIQ decide.'

Bellis' application is still under review, though her partner's visa has been approved to allow him, too, to apply for an emergency MIQ spot.

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University before going on to contribute to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems. She joined UNILAD in 2018 and now works as Senior Journalist covering breaking news, trending stories and longer form features with a focus on human interest stories.

Topics: News, New Zealand, World News