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Pregnant NZ journalist in Kabul allowed to return home

February 1, 2022

The New Zealand government's earlier decision to deny Charlotte Bellis reentry had sparked public outcry over the country's strict border controls. Bellis said her exemption did nothing to ensure others could return.

 In this recent photo provided by Charlotte Bellis, Bellis poses in a selfie with her partner Jim Huylebroek in Kabul, Afghanistan
Charlotte Bellis (R) is expecting her first child with her partner, freelance photographer Jim HuylebroekImage: Charlotte Bellis/AP Photo/picture alliance

New Zealand journalist Charlotte Bellis, who is pregnant and stuck in Afghanistan, has been offered a way back home. She said on Tuesday that she would be taking it. 

"I will be returning to my home country New Zealand at the beginning of March to give birth to our baby girl," she said in a statement posted on social media.

"We are so excited to return home and to be surrounded by family and friends at such a special time," she said.

Bellis, 35, was granted an exception from the strict COVID-19 entry restriction and allotted a rare spot in state-managed quarantine facility following a second request.

"There is a secured place for her [in hotel quarantine] with a flight arrangement alongside it that has been communicated to her today," New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said Tuesday morning.

"I urge her to take it up," he said after a cabinet meeting.

New Zealand has closed its borders, even to its own citizens, for much of the past two years.

While Bellis thanked fellow kiwis for their support, she also expressed disappointment with the government for not offering a pathway home for other pregnant New Zealanders.

Why is Bellis in Afghanistan?

Bellis had been forced to stay in Kabul after the New Zealand government rejected her emergency application for return over coronavirus restrictions.

She was working as an Afghanistan correspondent for the Doha-based news network Al Jazeera, covering the Taliban's takeover of the country.

Bellis did not realize she was pregnant until she returned to the media company's headquarters in Qatar, where it is illegal to be pregnant and unmarried. She resigned from Al Jazeera upon learning of her condition.

She tried to gain residency in Belgium, the home country of her partner, freelance photographer Jim Huylebroek.

But Bellis said the length of the process would have left her in Belgium with an expired visa.

The couple was eventually forced to relocate to Afghanistan, as that was where they both had valid visas to stay. 

The case had become embarrassing to the New Zealand government, exposing the plight of thousands of Kiwis stranded overseas as a result of the country's tough border controls.

adi/msh (AFP, AP)