Jewish Refugees from the Middle East and North Africa

Part of Modern Slavery Act: Independent Review – in Westminster Hall at 5:29 pm on 19th June 2019.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 5:29 pm, 19th June 2019

I wish to dedicate much of what I am going to say to the Jewish refugees of Iraq. I have taken a personal interest in them over the past year, having become friends with several Jews of Iraqi heritage who fled to the UK from Iraq.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of watching a powerful documentary entitled “Remember Baghdad”, which tells the story of Edwin Shuker and others, and of a once prosperous Jewish community in the Iraqi capital. Their stories are similar to those of so many other Iraqi Jews—135,000, to be precise.

Baghdad was seen as one of the centres of the Jewish world, with an abundance of synagogues, Jewish schools and kosher butchers. At one point, the Jewish community constituted as much as a third of the total population of Baghdad. It was a Jewish community much like those in many other parts of the world.

The situation began to change in the 1940s, with violent riots. Then, upon Israel’s foundation in 1948, the situation for Iraq’s Jews became absolutely untenable. Laws were passed making Zionism a criminal offence and allowing the police to raid and search thousands of Jewish homes for any evidence of Zionism. Jews were also prevented from going to schools, hospitals and other public places and organisations. Also, Jews were removed from thousands of Government positions and their homes were valued at 80% less than those of their Arab neighbours. Faced with such heartbreaking persecution, over 120,000 Iraqi Jews fled the country between 1948 and 1951; sadly, today the Jewish population of Iraq numbers no more than five. Many refugees went to Israel to forge a new life, but hundreds came to the UK, and in doing so they forfeited their Iraqi citizenship and their property.

The powerful documentary that I have mentioned tells a story of great loss, but I was also struck by the enormous optimism that it showed about re-establishing a Jewish presence in Iraq. In closing, I encourage the Minister to take the time to watch this short film; I ask him to recognise the injustice that was suffered by more than 850,000 Jewish refugees from across the middle east and north Africa; and I also ask him to ensure that the Government recognise this tragedy alongside that of the Palestinian refugees in their stance on the middle east peace process.