A pregnant New Zealand journalist forced to turn to the Taliban for help after she was stranded in Afghanistan by Jacinda Ardern’s draconian Covid border rules has finally been told she can return home.

Charlotte Bellis, 35, a journalist who worked in Qatar, has been stuck in Afghanistan since last year with Belgian partner Jim Huylebroek because it was the only place they had visas to live after she was turned away by the country of her birth.

Ms Bellis – who is now 25 weeks pregnant – previously told how the Taliban offered to help after hearing of her plight, but added that she is still desperate to return to New Zealand because of the lack of medical care in Afghanistan.

After global outcry at her treatment, New Zealand’s deputy prime minister Grant Robertson said today that she has now been granted a place in the country’s border quarantine system. ‘I urge her to take it up,’ he added.

He denied the worldwide attention her case has received had anything to do with her being granted a place, though did not make it clear what the decision was based on or why her previous application was rejected. 

It has since emerged that New Zealand rejected 65 emergency applications from pregnant women looking to return home in the last seven months alone – more than twice the number they accepted, which stands at 29.

Charlotte Bellis, 35, a New Zealand journalist who had been working in the Middle East, had been struggling to return home to give birth due to Jacinda Ardern's strict Covid rules

Charlotte Bellis, 35, a New Zealand journalist who had been working in the Middle East, had been struggling to return home to give birth due to Jacinda Ardern's strict Covid rules

Charlotte Bellis, 35, a New Zealand journalist who had been working in the Middle East, had been struggling to return home to give birth due to Jacinda Ardern’s strict Covid rules

Another 118 emergency applications involving a pregnancy were not processed by the government for being incomplete, or else were withdrawn by the applicants, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Mr Robertson insisted: ‘Staff of [the quarantine system] who have to deal with emergency application are dealing with very difficult and challenging cases on a daily basis.’

‘They always try to make contact with people and try to make arrangements that work.’

Ms Bellis had been living and working in Qatar as a broadcast journalist for Al Jazeera when she found out she was pregnant in September last year.

She described the pregnancy – with partner Mr Huylebroek, who is a photographer and New York Times contributor – as a complete surprise after doctors told her she would never have children.

But the couple were forced to leave Qatar in November after Ms Bellis’s doctor said she would be unable to treat her because of strict rules around extra-martial sex.

The pair initially went to Belgium where Ms Bellis first registered to go home using New Zealand’s lottery-style system that decides who gets to travel to the country.

Strict border quarantine rules mean that all arrivals in New Zealand have to stay for 10 days in managed Covid isolation, meaning tickets have to be rationed to ensure there is enough room to house people.

With no success using the lottery system, Ms Bellis was forced to leave Belgium because she was unable to get a visa to stay longer at short notice.

Travelling with her partner, Ms Bellis headed to Afghanistan after contacts she had within the Taliban offered to help and assured her that she would be safe there.

Once in Afghanistan, she applied for an emergency exemption to the border lottery system on the grounds that she required time-limited medical treatment that was unavailable in the country where she was staying. 

Ms Bellis has been stranded in Afghanistan with her partner and father of her child, Belgian photographer Jim Huylebroek, since last year

Ms Bellis has been stranded in Afghanistan with her partner and father of her child, Belgian photographer Jim Huylebroek, since last year

Ms Bellis has been stranded in Afghanistan with her partner and father of her child, Belgian photographer Jim Huylebroek, since last year 

Now 25 weeks pregnant, Ms Bellis had applied for an emergency waiver to New Zealand's border lotter system on the basis she cannot access medical care in Afghanistan

Now 25 weeks pregnant, Ms Bellis had applied for an emergency waiver to New Zealand's border lotter system on the basis she cannot access medical care in Afghanistan

Now 25 weeks pregnant, Ms Bellis had applied for an emergency waiver to New Zealand’s border lotter system on the basis she cannot access medical care in Afghanistan

She said she sent 59 documents to New Zealand authorities in Afghanistan but they rejected her application. 

The reason for the rejection was not made clear, though the letter Ms Bellis received and published appears to suggest that part of the explanation was because her proposed date of travel was more than 14 days from the date of application.

That is despite New Zealand’s border rules making it clear that this rule can be waived in special circumstances, which Ms Bellis says apply in her case because of the limited number of flights out of Afghanistan.

It was also suggested that she should apply under a different waiver category, stating that she is unsafe in her current location rather than because she cannot access medical care.

The letter also demands that Ms Bellis provide more documents proving that returning to New Zealand is the only option available to her.

But she pushed back, writing to say that she was not in fear of her safety and needed to access medical care in New Zealand that the Taliban could not provide.

‘You have all of our information. You know our situation. I want it on record that there is no change to our circumstances, no new evidence or information you have received,’ she wrote back.

‘If you are not approving us under the category [of urgent medical care] then please provide your justification.’

Then, on Tuesday, the government announced that she had been granted a place in border quarantine – without making it clear why it had changed its position. 

Jacinda Ardern's (pictured) strict Covid borders hampered Charlotte Bellis' attempts to return home before giving birth to her first child in May

Jacinda Ardern's (pictured) strict Covid borders hampered Charlotte Bellis' attempts to return home before giving birth to her first child in May

Jacinda Ardern’s (pictured) strict Covid borders hampered Charlotte Bellis’ attempts to return home before giving birth to her first child in May

Bellis is one of tens of thousand of Kiwis who have been stranded overseas due to Jacinda Ardern’s strict Covid rules. 

Under the rules, all returning New Zealanders must secure a place in a hotel quarantine facility and stay there for 10 days.

However there’s a limited number of places available, so the government uses a controversial online lottery system to allocates rooms.

Ms Bellis was flooded with online support for her efforts to return home, and was thanked for speaking out.

‘Please continue to fight for everyone that doesn’t have your profile. You are highlighting the absurdity and cruelty of the MIQ system, with multiple loopholes for the ultra wealthy, citizens or not,’ one commented.

Another added: ‘Many of us know people stuck overseas being treated in such a cruel way but we don’t have the means to bring it attention. Thank you.’ 

Prime Minister Ardern is yet to comment on Ms Bellis’ plight and is in self-isolation after she was declared a close contact of a Covid case. She has tested negative so far and will stay in isolation until Wednesday.  

Today, Mr Robertson said Ardern would make a speech about ‘New Zealand’s plan to reconnect with the world’ on Thursday.

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