Jewish Refugees from the Middle East and North Africa

Part of Modern Slavery Act: Independent Review – in Westminster Hall at 5:14 pm on 19th June 2019.

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Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Riverside 5:14 pm, 19th June 2019

I congratulate Theresa Villiers on securing this important debate. The 850,000 Jewish people displaced from Arab countries from 1948 are the forgotten refugees. They rarely feature as part of the discourse about the plight of middle eastern refugees associated with the establishment of the state of Israel, yet they are an integral part of the history of that region.

It is truly shocking that since 1947, antisemitism—hostility towards Jewish people—has virtually extinguished Jewish life in the middle east. Jewish people have lived in the middle east and north Africa since antiquity. Cities such as Baghdad in Iraq and Aleppo in Syria were renowned hubs of Jewish life. In 1947, one quarter of the population of Baghdad was Jewish, putting Baghdad on a par, in terms of the Jewish population, with pre-war Warsaw and New York. In 1947, there were 90,000 Egyptian Jews, living mainly in Cairo and Alexandria. The fate of the Jews of that region was persecution and expulsion, and their assets were confiscated. There is no right of return. The persecution and expulsion continued into the 1950s and beyond. Indeed, my right hon. Friend Dame Margaret Hodge is one of the Jewish Egyptian refugees.

The Jewish refugees were forced to make new lives elsewhere. Many found refuge in the state of Israel. Today, half of Israel’s population traces its origins to other middle eastern or north African countries. It is time that the story of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries was told as a fundamental part of the history of that important region. The Jewish people have always been part of the middle east. It is a sad reflection on the history of the region that there are now virtually no Jews in the middle east outside of Israel, the world’s only Jewish state. I hope that a peaceful solution to current conflicts in the region will once again welcome Jewish people right across the region, to the place of their origins.