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MIQ system being called greatest abuse of women's reproductive rights

Chelsea Daniels,
Publish Date
Mon, 31 Jan 2022, 8:27AM
More than 30 expectant mothers are battling for emergency MIQ spaces. (Photo / Getty Images)
More than 30 expectant mothers are battling for emergency MIQ spaces. (Photo / Getty Images)

MIQ system being called greatest abuse of women's reproductive rights

Chelsea Daniels,
Publish Date
Mon, 31 Jan 2022, 8:27AM

New Zealand's MIQ system is being called the greatest abuse of women's reproductive rights in a generation.

There are renewed calls for pregnant women to be eligible for emergency MIQ spots - after Kiwi journalist Charlotte Bellis sought help from the Taliban when her application to come home was rejected.

Bellis' lawyer Tudor Clee and Auckland mother Roshni Sami went to university together.

Fifteen years later, Clee got an unexpected call from his university pal for help.

She'd be one more than 30 expectant mothers battling for emergency MIQ spaces for either themselves or their partners to contact him for assistance tackling the needlessly complicated return home.

Sami gave birth to her child on December 30 with her partner, Walt, by her side.

But she was one of the lucky ones.

Clee and Sami started the Baby Bridge Initiative in order to help pregnant New Zealand women get home or have the support of their partners during and after birth -- a luxury only few would get.

Clee has helped putting forward emergency applications and in the most extreme cases, he's filed eight judicial reviews and gone to the High Court to obtain MIQ vouchers for them.

"The circumstances are all tragic and horrific. But, the most horrific are the ones where we were too late to help with. We've had at least three women who have had husbands or partners refused spaces -- who've had traumatic births, surgical interventions, who were sitting in hospitals during lockdowns without any support from friends or family."

"Fortunately, most of the women that we've helped have gotten back okay. But, there are one or two that we missed out on -- and that weighs on my conscience every day," he said.

Within weeks of the Baby Bridge Initiative, a broad range of maternal organisations came out in support -- including Plunket, Sir Peter Gluckman and all opposition parties.

"There are more than 200 pregnancy applications that we have no information on. We don't know if the women got back, whether the children got care, where the babies were born."

Clee is representing Charlotte Bellis, a Kiwi journalist allowed back to Kabul, Afghanistan after fleeing Qatar -- where it's illegal to be pregnant and unmarried.

Since going public with her plight, she's received an offer of refuge from another country -- but nothing from the New Zealand government.

"I actually filed the application on her behalf because of the experience I've had and knowing that most pregnancy applications are refused.

"I wanted to make sure all of the paperwork was in order for Charlotte's application. All the T's were crossed. And even with every single thing done properly -- it was refused and deactivated within 24 hours.

"And that really just shows how difficult it is for women to obtain the most fundamental reproductive right -- which is, to choose where and how you have your own baby," he said.

He says this is the single greatest abuse of women's reproductive rights in a generation.

"We've already dealt with the fact that women can choose whether or not they want to have a child. And now, for some reason, we're obsessed with deciding whether or not they can decide where and how to have a baby.

"To be in a country which celebrates the fact that the Prime Minister was one of the few leaders in the world to give birth during office and now we're in a situation where New Zealand women are having to beg, grovel and provide intimate medical details to completely unqualified people to be allowed to come back and give birth in their own country is utterly reprehensible.

He's calling for an inquiry into the women the country's forgotten...

"We need to find out what happened to all the women who were denied. What happened to the babies born overseas? Did they receive proper care? I think we'll need something along the lines of a Royal Commission of Inquiry to find out if these babies are okay and who's responsible for them.

It's not only the expectant mothers we need to worry about either -- it's the one we've let down already.

"A New Zealand woman was told at the High Court she was not allowed to come back and give birth in New Zealand in spite of having an Australian hospital writing a one page letter saying she was suffering from severe anxiety, depression, and that the baby was underweight and it was essential for her to have support when her baby was born.

"Her application was denied... That baby is sitting in a NICU unit in Australia. And for that mother, she has no idea when she can even fly back.

"In the same week that decision was made, eight DJs were given a green light to fly to New Zealand," he said.

"Women's health has never been a priority in Aotearoa," Clee said, "Women's health has always been debatable."

"Imagine it was an All Black who's suffered an injury overseas and had the All Black doctor say they must come back to New Zealand and rehab here with their family. If a person with no medical qualifications reviewed the application and said, 'no they can wait for an unspecified amount of time in whatever country they're in' -- there would be immediate outrage.

"And yet with pregnant women, we have unqualified people directly overruling doctors, midwives, specialists, psychiatrists in all of the applications that I've dealt with."

In October last year, Stuff reported there had been 229 MIQ applications involving pregnancy -- and just 23 approved.

Updated figures have been sought from Managed Isolation and Quarantine officials.

Head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ), Chris Bunny, says MIQ’s emergency allocation process exists for limited situations which require urgent travel to New Zealand within the next 14 days.

"There are currently 400 rooms per fortnight set aside for those who need to travel urgently. This is a last resort option with a very high threshold," he said.  

"To be eligible for an emergency allocation, the applicant must be legally entitled to enter New Zealand and the travel must be time-critical (within 14 days of their intended date of departure). Evidence is required to support all applications to ensure a fair and consistent process."

Right now, MIQ is under pressure like never before and is currently experiencing very high volumes of emergency allocation requests due to widespread travel disruption around the world.

From 30 October 2020 to 23 January 2022, MIQ processed 8,863 completed applications and approved 5,396 applications for emergency allocations.

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