Pregnant New Zealand journalist Charlotte Bellis, who turned to the Taliban after being denied entry into her own country, has been offered a spot in the country’s quarantine facility, making it possible for her to return home ahead of the birth of her child.
NZ’s Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson made the announcement at a press conference on Tuesday.
“There is a place for her to be able to return to New Zealand and I urge her to take it up,” Mr Robertson told reporters.
In a social media post, shortly after the press conference, Ms Bellis said: "Overnight we have received approval of our re-activated emergency MIQ application. I will be returning to my home country New Zealand at the beginning of March to give birth to our baby girl."
Ms Bellis thanked New Zealanders for their "overwhelming support" and expressed disappointment in the post that "it had to come to this".
"I will continue to challenge the New Zealand government to find a solution to border controls to keep New Zealanders at home and abroad safe and their rights respected," she said in the post.
In a column published in The New Zealand Herald on Saturday, Ms Bellis, 35, said she was stranded in Afghanistan after New Zealand prevented her from returning due to a bottleneck of people in its COVID-19 quarantine system.
Mr Robertson’s comments come a day after COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins defended the country’s managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) policy on Monday.
“I want to be clear, there is a place in MIQ for people with special circumstances like Ms Bellis. No one's saying there is not,” Mr Hipkins said in a statement on Monday.
New Zealand has managed to keep the spread of COVID-19 to a minimum during the pandemic, reporting just 52 virus deaths among its population of five million. In comparison, Australia's death toll is approaching 4,000.
But the nation’s requirement that even returning citizens spend 10 days isolating in quarantine hotels run by the military has led to a backlog of thousands of people vying for spots to return home.
Ms Bellis was working for Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera last year, covering the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, when she gained international attention by questioning Taliban leaders about their treatment of women and girls.
In her column on Saturday, Ms Bellis said she returned to Qatar in September and discovered she was pregnant with her partner, freelance photographer Jim Huylebroek, a contributor to The New York Times.
She is due to give birth to a girl in May.
Extramarital sex is illegal in Qatar and Ms Bellis said she realised she needed to leave. She repeatedly tried to get back to New Zealand through a lottery-style system for returning citizens, but without success.
She said she resigned from Al Jazeera in November and the couple moved to Huylebroek’s native Belgium. But she couldn’t stay long, she said, because she wasn’t a resident. She said the only other place the couple had visas to live was Afghanistan.
Ms Bellis said she spoke with senior Taliban contacts, who told her she would be fine if she returned to Afghanistan.
“Just tell people you're married and if it escalates, call us. Don't worry,” Ms Bellis said they told her.
Additional reporting by AFP.