A journalist from New Zealand says she has been forced to turn to the Taliban in Afghanistan after her own country refused her re-entry to give birth to her baby because of draconian Covid-19 measures.
Charlotte Bellis, a former Al Jazeera reporter, is from Christchurch New Zealand, but had been deployed to Afghanistan.
She says “When the Taliban offers you – a pregnant, unmarried woman – safe haven, you know your situation is messed up,”
“You might know me for being that Kiwi journalist who asked the Taliban in their inaugural press conference; “what will you do to protect the rights of women and girls?,” Ms Bellis wrote in the New Zealand Herald on Saturday.
She explained that she was deployed to Afghanistan by Al Jazeera from her base in Doha, Qatar. Last September, in Doha in September, she realised she was pregnant,
“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,” she wrote.
However, she found to her horror that New Zealand, which has kept stringent border controls despite most of the world opening up, wouldn’t let her in.
Ms Bellis was forced to ask the Taliban for permission to go back to Afghanistan, the only other country she had a visa for. She was assured by senior Taliban contacts that there would not be a problem, but to tell people she was married.
Because maternal healthcare is poor in Afghanistan, Ms Bellis persisted in trying to get home to New Zealand.
“We got letters from New Zealand obstetricians and medical experts to confirm the dangers of giving birth in Afghanistan and the impact of high stress during pregnancy. We included ultrasounds, letters in support of our relationship, bank statements, our Covid vaccinations including boosters, evidence of my resignation and our travel itinerary since. Between Jim and I, we submitted 59 documents to MIQ and Immigration NZ, including a cover letter written by our lawyer summarising our situation,” she wrote.
“On Monday, 24 January, we woke up to an email. We were rejected.”
Now that attention has been brought to the situation, it looks as if the New Zealand authorities may relent and allow the journalist home.
However, she is angry and upset at how pregnant women are being treated.
“The morning we were rejected, I sobbed in my window overlooking Kabul’s snow-covered rooftops. I wasn’t triggered by the disappointment and uncertainty, but by the breach of trust. That in my time of need, the New Zealand Government said you’re not welcome here. It feels surreal to even write that. And so, I cried. I thought, I hope this never happens again. I thought, we are so much better than this. 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 said.