Villiers tables first ever debate in Parliament on Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa

Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers has urged the Government to recognise the plight of Jewish communities forced out of the Middle East and North Africa in the last century.

In what is believed to be the first ever debate held on this issue in Parliament, the former Northern Ireland Secretary told the Westminster Hall debate last week that there were 856,000 Jewish people living in the region in 1945 but only about 4,500 remain. Prior to this displacement, Jewish people had been living continuously in the Middle East and North Africa for over 2,600 years.

They were forced to leave or fled countries such as Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria in what Theresa said amounted to “ethnic cleansing”.

“This is an untold story and an unresolved injustice: between 1948 and the 1970s, pogroms and violent attacks were perpetrated in across the Muslim world against Jewish citizens,” she told MPs.

“In the early 20th century, people living in the region constituted a sizeable minority of the world’s Jewish population. Yet in just a few decades, they almost all had to leave.”

“The plight of the 850,000 Jewish refugees and the scale of their suffering has never had the recognition it deserves,” she explained.

She told the debate that ignoring the plight of these Jewish communities and concentrating only on the Palestinian refugees “gives the international community a distorted view of the Middle East dispute”.

“A fair settlement needs to take into account the injustice suffered by Jewish refugees as well as the plight of the Palestinians,” she said.

“The historic UN resolution 242 states that a comprehensive peace agreement should include ‘a just settlement of the refugee problem’; the language is inclusive of both Palestinian and Jewish refugees,” she added.

She asked ministers to back efforts by UNESCO and other bodies who are pressing for the conservation of historic sites in the Middle East that have cultural significance for the Jewish community and other minorities.

She also appealed to the Government that when Ministers discuss the Middle East they should explicitly acknowledge that two refugee groups emerged from the aftermath of partition and the 1948 war - Palestinian and Jewish.

Finally, she told the debate: “I am deeply worried that history is repeating itself in the Middle East. Just as the indigenous Jewish population was forced out 70 years ago, now the Christians there are under increasing pressure.”

A number of people who had to flee their home countries in the Middle East and North Africa during this period were present at the debate. That included Woodside Park resident, Edwin Shuker, Vice President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. He and his family were forced to escape Iraq in the early 70s.

The Hansard report of Theresa’s speech can be found at the following link: