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Yazidi infant permitted to enter Israel for life-saving heart procedure after bureaucratic hurdles

Eight more Kurdish babies arrive from Jordan this week as well for emergency surgeries

Kurdish families at the Jordan River crossing waiting to enter Israel (Photo courtesy Shevet Achim)

A two-month old Yazidi girl, Hena, was finally allowed to enter Israel with her uncle last Thursday from Iraqi Kurdistan in order to undergo life-saving heart surgery.

Her arrival had been delayed for more than a month because of Israeli government bureaucracy and coronavirus travel restrictions. Upon entry into Israel, the infant was transported directly to Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, where her emergency treatment began.

“When she arrived at the hospital in Tel Aviv we rejoiced,” Hena’s father said from an Iraqi refugee camp, emphasizing that the doctors did not spare any effort in treating her.

“We are grateful to the State of Israel for helping us in these difficult circumstances,” he continued. “We thank you, truly. For us, as Hena’s family, this is an enormous happiness.”

The arrangement for baby Hena’s surgery was coordinated by Shevet Achim, a non-profit Christian organization founded in 1994 to help bring children from neighboring Arab countries with high-risk medical conditions to Israel for medical treatment. Jonathan Miles, Founder of Shevat Achim (Hebrew for “brothers dwelling together”) helped facilitate Hena’s arrival by scheduling the surgery at Sheba hospital, and by advocating on her behalf to Israel government authorities, including the Ministry of Interior, Foreign Ministry and the Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA).

The non-profit group works with Israeli doctors and cooperates with other groups, such as Israel’s Save a Child’s Heart at Wolfson Medical Center, to arrange life-saving surgeries for children with congenital heart defects who are not able to receive treatment in their own country. For over two decades, they have arranged to save the lives of hundreds of Palestinian, Jordanian, Iraqi and Syrian children.

Hena was born on Jan. 21 in Iraqi Kurdistan with numerous health complications – including pulmonary atresia – a heart defect where the valve that controls blood flow from the heart to the lungs doesn’t form, thereby causing difficulty for blood to collect the oxygen the body needs to survive. Local Kurdish cardiologists in Iraq conducted the initial medical assessment and sent the results to a surgeon at Sheba Medical Center. The surgeon determined that Hena needed to undergo emergency surgery within the next two weeks or they would risk losing her.

However, on Jan. 25, Israel had already begun barring entry to non-citizens and foreign university students – as well as some Israeli citizens – in an attempt to prevent new variants of the coronavirus from spreading. The PIBA Exceptions Committee was established to review entry requests and grant individuals permission on a case-by-case basis, with a preference to situations involving humanitarian needs, although the committee had been accused of alleged political meddling.

With Hena’s life at stake, Miles ultimately turned to Knesset member Michal Cotler-Wunsh for assistance. She and her staff worked to get the necessary government approvals so that Hena could cross the border into Israel.

“It encourages us to see the people of Israel enter into the fight to bring these children to Israel,” Miles said. “We see them as the leaders and we are foreign volunteers in a small supporting role.”

Hena is currently in stable condition at Sheba Medical Center and preparing for surgery tomorrow.

In other encouraging news, on Tuesday afternoon, Israel welcomed yet another eight Kurdish children from Iraq in need of critical care procedures. Miles informed ALL ISRAEL NEWS that the families had just crossed into Israel from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan via the Sheikh Hussein Bridge – aka The Jordan River Crossing – located in the northern Israeli city of Beit Shean. The Kurdish families were met by Shevet Achim volunteers upon arrival.

Despite the good news, Shevet Achim’s efforts to rescue lives are far from over as it now awaits government approval for additional requests. Just last month, Miles lamented the fact that other children with serious illnesses were being denied the opportunity for surgery that could save their lives.

“We have 17 families in Israel for treatment and only six workers,” Miles explained. “Nine other workers have been waiting three months for permission to enter.”

He is hoping that their request for permission to enter Israel will be approved so the team can continue “to support the Israeli medical staff in their work.”

“Over many years, the heart of the people of Israel is to care about the lives of these children,” said Miles. “They do everything possible to rescue them when nobody else in the world seems to care. This is the glory of the people of Israel. I am convinced that this is who that people is – what they are called to do in this world.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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