Pregnant New Zealand reporter stranded in Afghanistan allowed to return home

Reporter Charlotte Bellis on Feb 1 said she would return to New Zealand next month to give birth to her daughter. PHOTO: CHARLOTTEBELLIS/INSTAGRAM

WELLINGTON (AFP) - A pregnant New Zealand journalist who claimed to have nowhere to go but Afghanistan will be allowed to return home, after officials granted her an exemption from strict Covid-19 entry restrictions amid public outcry.

Reporter Charlotte Bellis on Tuesday (Feb 1) said she would return to New Zealand next month to give birth to her daughter, after being granted a rare place in state-managed quarantine following a second request.

New Zealand's borders have been closed for much of the last two years, as the country kept coronavirus at bay. Only 800 rooms per month are set aside for New Zealanders and visa holders who urgently need to return.

"We are so excited to return home and to be surrounded by family and friends at such a special time," Ms Bellis said in a statement, thanking Kiwis for their support.

The 35-year-old's case has underscored the plight of Kiwis stranded overseas by tough virus-related border controls, and heaped pressure on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's government to ease restrictions.

"We are disappointed it had to come to this," the Afghanistan-based Ms Bellis said.

Bellis was working for Al Jazeera in Kabul when Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. She did not realise she was pregnant until she was at the media company's headquarters in Doha, Qatar, where it is illegal to be pregnant and unmarried.

Bellis kept her pregnancy secret as she prepared to return to New Zealand, but was told she did not qualify for an exemption to return. Instead she called senior Taliban contacts and was told she could give birth there.

"When the Taliban offers you - a pregnant, unmarried woman - safe haven, you know your situation is messed up," she told the New Zealand Herald on Saturday.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said Bellis was given a quarantine slot after her circumstances were reviewed, not because of the intense publicity the case generated.

"Her case has been assessed, there is a place for her to be able to return to New Zealand and I urge her to take it up," he told reporters. Robertson said an announcement would be made Thursday on reopening borders in New Zealand, which throughout the pandemic has recorded only 53 Covid-19 deaths in a population of five million.

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