Canada gave safe haven to thousands of refugees


For a country that gave safe haven to tens of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, it is odd that the official policy of successive Canadian governments has only recognised the displaced Palestinians, claimed one of the testifiers, Shimon Fogel (left), at the recent Parliamentary hearings on Jewish refugees in Ottawa. Here is his article  for the Times of Israel (with thanks: Michelle):

The omission from Canadian foreign policy of
the experience of Jewish refugees from Arab Countries is baffling given
how much was known by the Government of Canada throughout the evolution
of their plight. The following examples are from government records
available at Library and Archives Canada.

By March 1949, Canadian diplomats were
reporting that “many thousands” of Jewish refugees fleeing North Africa
were “pouring into Palestine”.

By March 1952, the Government of Canada
received reports that Israel had absorbed more than 300,000 Jews from
Arab countries, including 120,000 from Iraq and 50,000 from Yemen.

In August 1956, following months of requests
from one of our predecessor organizations, the Canadian Jewish Congress,
the Canadian government decided: “in view of the urgent humanitarian
considerations involved”, to waive the normal security procedures and
facilitate the movement of North African Jews to Canada. Approximately
25,000 Jews came to Canada from Morocco as part of the mass migration of
more than 200, 000 Jewish Moroccans between 1948 and 1967.

In December 1956, the Department of External
Affairs received diplomatic cables describing the expulsion of Egyptian
Jewry. Those Jewish Egyptians who were rendered stateless by the
discriminatory 1926 Nationality Code (approximately 50% of the Jewish
population in 1956) were faced with a horrific dilemma.

Cables to External Affairs reported that “Jews without nationality are given [a] choice between leaving Egypt or being sent to a concentration camp. …Jews
would receive a visit of some official who would intimidate them into
signing a declaration of intention to leave Egypt which would result in
cancellation of residence permit and then force them to leave the

On December 20, 1956, in response to these reports, a memorandum to the Minister of External Affairs stated: “What
we have in mind is that a sensible principle to accept would be that
Jewish refugees wishing to go to Israel should do so and that those not
wishing to go to Israel should be accommodated elsewhere in the free
world, including Canada

Six days later, External Affairs received another cable detailing “a new emergency…concerning the movement of ten thousand Jews from Egypt.”

In February 1957, the UN High Commissioner of Refugees deemed the Egyptian refugees eligible for UN protection.

Canadian cables from elsewhere in the region
continued to tell a similar story into the following decade. For
example, a May 4, 1964 memorandum from the Canadian Embassy in
Switzerland to the Under-Secretary of State of External Affairs spoke of
Apartheid conditions facing the Jews of Tunisia.

Even as late as March 1973, diplomats were
expecting an increase in Jewish immigration to Canada from Morocco,
“possibly more rapidly and dramatically than we would wish, as new
Moroccan measures are being implemented in the months ahead” that “will
force all these unwanted people to seek a new home.”

Yet, despite all this accumulated evidence,
despite the tens of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries
that found asylum in Canada, the official policy of successive Canadian
governments has only recognized the displaced Palestinians. This remains
the status quo today.

A review of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s website shows absolutely no mention of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. In the section that defines Canada’s official policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, consideration of Palestinian refugees features prominently while Jewish refugees are ignored.

This imbalance in Canadian policy stands in
sharp contrast to the leadership role Canada has played on the refugee
file since the inception of the Middle East peace process, as “Gavel Holder” of the multilateral Refugee Working Group.
A product of the 1991 Madrid peace conference, the Working Group has
served as a complement to bilateral negotiations and as a forum for
discussing longer-term issues and possible contributions from the
international community to an effective resolution to the refugee issue.

As “Gavel Holder”, Canada is uniquely placed
to raise the profile of the Jewish refugee issue and to ensure it is
given the fair consideration it merits. Official incorporation of the
Jewish refugee issue into Canadian foreign policy will signal to the
world, at this important juncture, that Canada is ready to take the lead
on this central issue and to foster a comprehensive resolution of all
refugee claims.

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