Jewish Refugees from the Middle East and North Africa

Part of Modern Slavery Act: Independent Review – in Westminster Hall at 5:23 pm on 19th June 2019.

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Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon 5:23 pm, 19th June 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers on securing this important debate. It is an opportunity to give this issue the prominence that it deserves. As Mr Lewis said, it is remarkable that this issue is rarely remarked upon. Some 850,000 people were forced from their homes, yet no pressure group or organisation ever talks about it. However, as my right hon. Friend Robert Halfon said, the UN has passed 172 resolutions on Palestinian refugees and not a single one on Jewish refugees. I ask the Minister to advise us on what can be done to correct that imbalance, and what the Government can do with regard to the United Nations.

The right hon. Lady said that Jewish roots in north Africa go back 3,000 years. Indeed, many Jewish people travelled with the Phoenicians, who were wonderful traders and seaman, capable of navigating the oceans. Today there is not a single Jewish person left in Algeria; previously there were 140,000. The same is true in Libya. There are said to be just 20 Jewish people living in Egypt, despite there once being a thriving community of 75,000.

The Jews of Yemen, a community going back 2,000 years, also faced some of the worst persecution, with protests against the UN partition plan resulting in the murders of over 80 innocent Jewish people, and the burning of their homes, school and synagogue. However, Israel manged to save 47,000 of the Yemeni Jews in the extraordinary Operation Magic Carpet, from 1949 to 1950, with help, I must say, from the United Kingdom, so that they could start their new lives in the nascent Jewish state.

Some 60,000 square miles of land was taken from Jewish refugees, which would be four times the size of Israel. These people are not seeking any kind of restitution; they are seeking recognition of their plight. My hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith also suggested that the Government should follow the lead of the Canadian, American and Israeli Governments, and officially recognise the experience of so many Jewish refugees after the second world war. I hope that the Government take that opportunity.

Many of those Jewish exiles have gone on to make a huge advance in their personal lives, as well as contributing to the community of Israel itself. They have reached important positions in national Government, and thrived in the public and private sectors. They have made an invaluable contribution to the state of Israel. When we hear about Palestinian refugees, we must all bear in mind the fact that this was a tragedy for not just one group of people, but two groups.