Emergency life-saving surgery for an Iraqi-Kurdish infant with a congenital heart defect has been put on hold, as the Interior Ministry ignored repeated appeals to grant the baby an entry visa, according to a Jerusalem-based medical NGO.
The founder of Shevet Achim, a Christian organization that brings children from neighboring Arab countries to Israel for medical treatment, said Interior Minister Aryeh Deri’s office was stonewalling their urgent visa requests for two month-old Roman.
“It’s very painful and extremely frustrating,” Jonathan Miles told The Times of Israel on Thursday.
Ministry officials told the organization in the past two weeks that Deri was “unreachable” and would not be able consider Roman’s visa application until after the end of the Passover holiday next week.
Roman suffers from transposition of the great arteries, a fatal syndrome in which the main arteries carrying blood from the heart are reversed. According to Miles, the condition can be corrected with a surgery performed on infants in the first two months of life.
Roman was born on February 27.
“He has to get here before the end of Passover, or it will be too late,” he stressed.
Miles said he was making a last-minute appeal to the Interior Ministry in the hopes Deri would intervene at the last minute to approve Roman’s visa, like he did in a similar case last year. He also urged Deri to approve an emergency medical visa for 18-year-old Miriam, an Iraqi-Kurdish girl whose heart is failing.
The Interior Ministry rejected Miriam’s visa request in January, on the basis that she was no longer a child, a decision Miles called “arbitrary.”
For over two decades, Shevet Achim has facilitated life-saving medical treatment for hundreds of Palestinian, Jordanian, Iraqi and Syrian children at Israeli hospitals. The group has worked in close coordination with Save A Child’s Heart at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, and more recently with doctors and nurses at Sheba Medical Center.
Last year, Deri personally intervened at the last minute to allow an Iraqi baby to undergo surgery in Israel following an eleventh-hour appeal by Shevet Achim.
The group initially sought to bring three Iraqi-Kurdish babies to Israel for surgery in the fall of 2018, but their visas were delayed due to the Jewish holidays. By the time Deri stepped in to approve the visas, hours before the start of the Sukkot holiday, one of the babies had died and another had been flown to India for treatment.
The third baby, Ahlam, was flown to Israel in September 2018, where she successfully underwent surgery to correct her artery transposition.
Miles urged Deri to intervene on Roman and Miriam’s behalf before the start of the Passover holiday on Friday evening.
He said that after she was denied entry to Israel, Miriam’s parents were pursuing surgery for their daughter in Iran, but said their treatment options there were “less than ideal.”
“For 25 years I’ve told people from all over the world that Israel would never turn its back on a dying child,” he told The Times of Israel. “Tonight, I can’t say that, because they are denying entry to young people who are dying for no good reason.”
Miles said he was dismayed at the inaction from Deri and his office but said he was “praying for a Passover miracle.”
The Interior Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.