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Banned: Sudanese-born British Jew barred from US

Robert Cohen, 68, has held a British passport for nearly 45 years since moving to the UK in 1973 after fleeing the African state for Israel, while he was a teenager.

    Robert Cohen and his wife, Carole
    Robert Cohen and his wife, Carole

    A Sudanese-born British Jew has told how he has been left “utterly devastated” after being barred from flying to America to attend a wedding under Donald Trump’s so-called “Muslim” travel ban.

    Robert Cohen, 68, has held a British passport for nearly 45 years since moving to the UK in 1973 after fleeing the African state for Israel, along with his family, while he was a teenager.

    Having flown back and forth between America and the UK on numerous occasions, Mr Cohen, who lives in Hendon, north London, saw no reason why he would not be able to gain an ESTA visa to fly to Los Angeles for the wedding of the son of Rabbi Menachem Junik, the minister at his local Beis Gavriel synagogue.

    But Mr Cohen’s application to fly earlier this month came back “unauthorised” because he had confirmed his birthplace was Sudan — one of six Muslim-majority countries on US President Donald Trump’s travel ban list.

    Mr Cohen, who was born in the country’s capital city Khartoum in 1948, told the JC: “David, who was getting married, is almost like a godson to me. I was meant to be under the chupah giving a blessing, and I was sitting at the top table in the evening.

    “It was a terrible moment when I had to tell the family I would not be able to attend. The most maddening thing is that I have not been back to Sudan since I fled the country with my brothers and sisters when I was just 15 years old.”

    Mr Cohen, a retired travel agent, said he decided to book himself a ticket to fly to Los Angeles before the big day on March 3. 

    “As has been the case before when I have travelled, I went to apply for my ESTA and to book a flight direct  to Los Angeles flying from Heathrow,” he explained.

    “But this time my ESTA came back unauthorised. I spoke to the embassy to check why — and they told me it was because I had stated I was born in Sudan.

    “I have been a British passport holder for nearly 45 years now and I applied for my ESTA giving my British passport number.”

    Mr Cohen has been told by immigration experts that there might be the possibility of a visa if he attends the US embassy for an interview.

    Asked about the situation, a spokesman for the American Embassy in London said: “We don’t comment on individual cases.”

    But Mr Cohen fears that the bar on ESTA visas from British citizens who were born in Sudan who wish to travel to America could now affect around 300 Jews born in the African state, as well as Jews from other Muslim-majority countries. 

    “There are big Jewish communities here in the UK, not just from Sudan, but from Yemen and especially Iran," he said. “I don’t want to get involved in politics, but what is clear is that there are Jews, Christians and Muslims affected by this ban.

    “Before Donald Trump I had no problem flying to America,” he added. “We last visited in January and February 2016. I now find myself banned from travelling to America when I have travelled there hundreds of times before. I am not a terrorist. I fought for the Israel in the Six-Day war. But now there are Jews, Muslims, Christians all of who are in the same situation as me.”
     

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