The pregnant New Zealand journalist Charlotte Bellis (35) has found refuge with Afghanistan’s Taliban. Bellis is unmarried. She was forced to leave Qatar after becoming pregnant in the country, where births outside marriage are banned.
Bellis worked for the Arabic news channel Al Jazeera’s English-language Afghanistan service. In Doha, the station’s headquarters, she realized that she was pregnant. As it is illegal to be pregnant and unmarried in Qatar, she kept her pregnancy a secret. This while Bellis was trying to return to New Zealand in her distress. But strict Covid 19 regulations prohibit her from returning home. She submitted 59 documents. All were turned away.
No places in quarantine hotels
The problem: In the New Zealand quarantine hotels there are no free places for the woman and her boyfriend and father of the child, the “New York Times” photographer Jim Huylebroek in Kabul. The situation in New Zealand has deteriorated in recent months. The places in the hotels are so rare that they are allocated by drawing lots.
Bellis and Huylebroek then applied for an exemption. But this was not exhibited either, as Bellis writes in an experience report in the newspaper “New Zealand Herald”. The reason given by the authorities: The 35-year-old does not have a fixed medical appointment in New Zealand. One birth is obviously not enough for such a person.
So she picked up the phone and called senior Taliban contacts. They promptly allowed her entry – and that she could give birth to her child in Afghanistan. In a country where “pregnancy can be a death sentence,” says Bellis.
In “time of need” at home “not welcome”
In a “time of need” she was “not welcome in New Zealand,” writes Bellis. “It feels surreal to even write that.” The newspaper headlines: “Pregnant Kiwi journalist Charlotte Bellis granted asylum” (New Zealanders refer to themselves as Kiwis).
Bellis sharply criticizes the New Zealand government’s Covid entry policy. Thousands of New Zealanders are stranded abroad and unable to return home. Bellis: “But it’s only when you’re actually in this situation that you realize that the strict rules just don’t make sense.”
At least four people have offered Bellis their place in the quarantine hotel. But nothing will come of it either, because the permits cannot be transferred.
She once questioned the Taliban, now she is questioning New Zealand
The Taliban reacted very differently to New Zealand. They assured her: “We are happy for you. You can come and you won’t have any problems.” They also told her: «Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.” This while “the New Zealand government, in my distress, said I was not welcome here”.
As a journalist, Bellis once asked the Taliban what they were doing to ensure the rights of women and girls. It is “brutally ironic,” says the 35-year-old today, that she is now asking her own government the same question. “When the Taliban offer you – a pregnant, unmarried woman – a safe haven, you know your situation is moot.”
Bellis is expecting her daughter in May. In the meantime, according to Bellis, she had been contacted by the New Zealand authorities. They informed her that her rejected entry application would be re-examined. (kes/man)
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