Scholar’s Visit to Australia Thwarted by Australian Consular Staff

September 1, 2011 by J-Wire Staff
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Distinguished Torah scholar, Dr Bryna Jocheved Levy, scheduled to be The Shalom Institute’s scholar-in-residence in August, was prevented from entering Australia by the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Dr Bryna Jochaved Levy and carer Sangita Khatri

Although Dr Levy acquired a visa for herself, her carer, Sangita Khatri, was denied one on the basis of her Nepalese citizenship. Dr Levy, who suffers from MS and is wheelchair-bound, is unable to make the journey from Israel to Australia without the constant assistance of Ms Khatri.

The refusal came despite support of the application from Minister Peter Garrett and MPs Michael Danby and Malcolm Turnbull as well as several Jewish community leaders. The office of the Minister for Social Inclusion, Tanya Plibersek, declined to get involved in the application process and referred the matter to the Minister for Immigration. Neither the Ambassador nor the Minister for Foreign Affairs was willing to intervene. There is no automatic right to appeal.

Dr Levy’s connection to Australia goes back to 1977, when she was part of the Counterpoint delegation to Mt Scopus College. During that visit, she formed a strong friendship with the philanthropists the late Hans and Regina (Gini) Bachrach, who bequeathed to Dr Levy her current wheelchair. It had been a dream of Dr Levy’s to return the kindness by leaving the chair in Australia for use by someone in need of it.

Dr Levy went to extraordinary lengths to prepare for the trip to Australia, including undergoing an operation in Bulgaria to strengthen her for the journey. Ms Khatri was unable to accompany her on that occasion because her passport was in the possession of the Australian Embassy, so Dr Levy had to engage another nurse. Even making that comparatively short journey was very difficult without the care of her usual companion.

The relationship between Ms Khatri and Dr Levy is extremely close: to say that Ms Khatri is devoted to her employer is an understatement. “When I am with Bryna when she is teaching, she brings me closer to God. I would give Bryna my legs if I could”, Ms Khatri said.

One of the gravest injustices of the refusal to grant Ms Khatri a visa was the suggestion that she is an immigration risk – that she might seek asylum in Australia. “How could they think I would leave Bryna?” Ms Khatri asked. “It hurts me that they could think that”.

Ms Khatri explained: “I tried to get documentation from Nepal to prove I was a trustworthy person but the bureaucracy there made it impossible. I don’t know how you prove you are an innocent person. I wouldn’t leave Bryna and I certainly wouldn’t abandon my child”.

No assessment or investigation of the relationship was made by the Australian Embassy and none of the referees were contacted.

“The way we were treated was cruel and devastating to me,” Dr Bryna Levy said. “All I expected was honesty and integrity and the capacity for understanding my situation.”

As well as being a huge loss to the Sydney Jewish community, the Embassy’s decision amounts to discrimination on the basis of disability and flies in the face of the principles of inclusiveness Australia claims to hold.

The block on a visa for Ms Khatri would have emanated from the Minister for Immigration Chris Bowen.

Federal Labor MP Michael Danby told J-Wire: “I totally disagree with the Minister’s decision. I would have granted a visa on compassionate grounds on the basis that the Nepalese carer should have been allowed time to train an Australian  counterpart to assume her role. That would have been a sensible compromise.”


4 Responses to “Scholar’s Visit to Australia Thwarted by Australian Consular Staff”
  1. david singer says:

    Mr Bowen’s competence to continue to act as the Minister for Immigration has just taken another nosedive following this heartless decision. The sooner he tenders his resignation – the better.

  2. Paul Winter says:

    It is beyond belief that Dr Levy’s trip to Australia had to be cancelled because her carer, Ms Khatri, a Nepalese citizen might have requested asylum. Even if one becomes deaf to Ms Khatri’s expressions of devotion to Dr Levy with the unbelievable concern that Ms Khatri would abandon Dr Levy in Australia, one cannot accept the Minister’s decision. If Australia denied a visa to any visitor who might apply for asylum, would result in the death of our tourism industry. The denial of a visa to a person who comes from a country – Israel – where she has residence and/or asylum and is thus not eligible to claim asylum from Australia is not based in reality, the more so as none of her referees was contacted. Unless Ms Khatri was involved in some security related activities before she went to Israel – not the reason for her visa refusal, Bowen’s action cannot be attributed to anything other than a backhanded method of getting at Israel. Even if there could be international concerns about a visit by a Nepalese citizen, depriving Australians from hearing a scholar is a low unprincipled act and one contrary to our declared support for the disabled. The Minister’s action needs to be remembered at the next election, but in the meantime, some questions should be put to him in parliament.

  3. Josie Lacey says:


  4. Fiona Sweet Formiatti says:

    This decision baffles me. Short-sighted, unjustified, plain stupid. Isn’t there some form of appeal that can be organised?

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