(Video: Fox News)
New Zealand initially denied a pregnant journalist re-entry into her home country, citing COVID restrictions and forcing her to seek help from an unlikely source, the Taliban. She has since been offered a path to return home.
Charlotte Bellis discussed her situation with Fox News host Dana Perino on “America’s Newsroom” on Monday. Bellis detailed the chain of events that brought her to Afghanistan as a single, pregnant woman.
She explained that she was in Qatar initially working for Al-Jazeera, but left the country because it is illegal in Qatar to be single and pregnant. She and her partner, freelance photographer Jim Huylebroek, first traveled to his home country of Belgium but couldn’t remain there because she needed a tourist visa to stay. They knew that using tourist visas would be expensive and would prevent them from getting health care for the baby.
Instead, Bellis applied to New Zealand using the “emergency allocation” request, but she was denied.
Despite their frustration and surprise, they knew that they had to do something, she explained. Since both she and her partner had work visas for Afghanistan, they explored that as a temporary option until they could sort things out with New Zealand.
“I contacted some Taliban people that I trusted and had known for a while and said, what do you think? Is this going to be a problem? Because I’m going to come and there’s going to be a bump and people will know,” Bellis explained.
She said they welcomed her and told her she should reach out if she had any issues during her stay.
Perino asked the obvious question: “What exactly is the issue with New Zealand?”
“New Zealand has done very well with COVID management,” Bellis noted. “They had very strict borders throughout the pandemic. You had to play a lottery as a citizen to get back into the country or apply for an emergency disparate allocation.”
New Zealand requires travelers into the country to stay at “quarantine hotels” before moving about the country. Currently, there are thousands of citizens waiting abroad for space to open in such hotels.
She went on: “I played the lottery once I found out I was pregnant, didn’t get any spots. Got here and thought, ‘We are running out of time. Let’s apply for this emergency allocation.’ And they rejected us. They said, ‘You’re outside some arbitrary 14-day window, but even if you were inside it, you haven’t met the threshold. Haven’t proven you couldn’t get similar treatment in Afghanistan.’ We were dumbfounded.”
According to the letter Bellis received, the rejection was based solely on the proposed travel date, which was “greater than the 14 days from the date of application.” The letter stated that “it was determined that more information is required before a decision can be made.”
The letter then continued, advising her that she should apply under a different statute which applies to citizens “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.” She was then asked to provide proof that this was indeed her only option.
The letter closed with the warning that if she did not respond within seven days of the date of the letter, her application would be deactivated completely.
Bellis responded to the letter from the Emergency Allocation Team by writing that it appeared that the policy had been changed arbitrarily for them in recent days, now also insisting that they prove a serious risk to their safety in their current location.
On Sunday 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. I attach their letter and my response to MIQ. pic.twitter.com/YPI3j3mBEZ
— Charlotte Bellis (@CharlotteBellis) January 30, 2022
She contended that safety was not the issue, that the issue had always been the one stated under the original statute, the “need for time-critical medical treatment that is unavailable or inaccessible in our current location.”
She also spoke of the irony of the situation: “I was covering Afghanistan, I was here during the fall,” Bellis said. “I asked the Taliban actually at the time, What are you going to do to ensure the rights of women and girls? And then a week later, I conceived a little girl against all odds.”
The situation with Bellis has been embarrassing for New Zealand, which on Tuesday offered Bellis a way back home, according to the Daily Star.
“I will be returning to my home country New Zealand at the beginning of March to give birth to our baby girl,” Bellis said in a statement. “We are so excited to return home and be surrounded by family and friends at such a special time.” Huylebroek will be admitted, as well, if he travels on the same flight with her.
Chris Bunny, the head of New Zealand’s quarantine system, said the new offer was made to Bellis because Afghanistan was extremely dangerous and there was a risk of terrorism. He denied that negative publicity factored into the decision, stating, “We have the residual discretion to grant allocations in rare and exceptional circumstances.”
Bellis in her statement thanked New Zealanders for their support and promised to continue to challenge the government to find a better solution for its border controls.
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