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Rejected by New Zealand, journalist turns to Taliban for help

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Rejected by New Zealand, journalist turns to Taliban for help

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A pregnant New Zealand journalist says she turned to the Taliban for help and is now stranded in Afghanistan after her home country prevented from returning due to a bottleneck of people in its coronavirus quarantine system.

In a column published in the New Zealand Herald on Saturday, Charlotte Bellis said it was “brutally ironic” that she asked the Taliban about their treatment of women and is now asking the same questions of her own government.

“When the Taliban offer you – a pregnant, single woman – a safe haven, you know your situation is screwed up,” Bellis wrote in his column.

New Zealand’s COVID-19 response minister Chris Hipkins told the Herald that his office had asked officials to check whether they had followed the correct procedures in Bellis’s case, “which on the face of it appeared to justify further explanation”.

New Zealand has managed to keep the spread of the virus to a minimum during the pandemic and has reported just 52 virus deaths among its population of 5 million.

But the country’s requirement that even returning citizens spend 10 days self-isolating in military-run quarantine hotels has resulted in a backlog of thousands of people wanting to return home vying for places.

Stories of citizens stranded abroad in dire circumstances have embarrassed Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government, but Bellis’ situation is particularly stark.

Last year, she was working for Al Jazeera covering the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan when she came to international attention by interviewing Taliban leaders about their treatment of women and girls.

In her Saturday column, Bellis said she returned to Qatar in September and discovered she was pregnant by her partner, freelance photographer Jim Huylebroek, a New York Times contributor.

She described the pregnancy as a “miracle” after being told by doctors she couldn’t have children. She is due to give birth to a daughter in May.

Extramarital sex is illegal in Qatar and Bellis said she realized she had to leave. She has tried several times to return to New Zealand in a lottery-like system for returning citizens, but was unsuccessful.

She said she quit Al Jazeera in November and the couple moved to Belgium’s native Huylebroek. But she couldn’t stay long, she said, because she was not a resident. She said the only other place the couple had visas to live was Afghanistan.

Bellis said she spoke with high-ranking Taliban contacts who told her she would be fine if she returned to Afghanistan.

“Just tell people you’re married and if it gets out of hand, give us a call. Don’t worry,” Bellis said, they told him.

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

Chris Bunny, co-head of New Zealand’s managed isolation and quarantine system, told the Herald that Bellis’ emergency request did not meet the requirement that she travel within 14 days.

He said staff contacted Bellis to make another request that would meet the requirements.

“It’s not uncommon and an example of the team helping New Zealanders who find themselves in difficult situations,” Bunny wrote.

Bellis said pregnancy can be a death sentence in Afghanistan due to the poor state of maternity care and lack of surgical capacity.

She said after speaking to lawyers, politicians and public relations officials in New Zealand, her case appears to be moving forward again, although she has not yet been approved to return home.

Rejected by New Zealand, journalist turns to Taliban for help

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